Grand Rapids, MI - On a hot and dusty Saturday, July 28, Michigan Teamsters stood with signs reading, “Teamsters on strike against Grand Rapids Gravel Company - for as long as it takes.” The 57 gravel pit workers and drivers went on strike July 19, at 11:30 a.m., after the company refused to budge in negotiations. Grand Rapids Gravel is demanding $6 per hour in benefit cuts. The Teamsters came back with $3.26 in givebacks, but were forced out on strike anyway.
One striker, Mike Wilcox said, “I am 30 years on the job and 33 in the union. The company wants to cut my vacation in half and take away retirees health insurance. I have earned this.”
The Teamsters’ union steward, Craig Salzwedel, said he has watched the company decline since passing management to the next generation of owners in the Dykema family, “In 2007, there were 117 employees and now it is down to 57. You have to realize that half of our workers make $26,000 per year because there is no work in the winter…They are out to break the union. None of their other companies are union.”
Also on the picket line were children, wives and friends with homemade signs saying, “Talk it over,” “Dykema unfair!” and “Stop the greed!” They stood for six hours lining the highway across from the Boulder Creek Golf Course, another business owned by the Dykema family. The Dykema empire includes Dykema Excavators, 4 J Trucking, the golf course, and land holdings. Everyone in and around Grand Rapids knows their name, but their reputation is taking a big hit now. Two of Dykema’s big customers have already dropped their orders and the Teamsters are talking to others.
Many of the of the veteran pit workers and drivers were surprised to see the senior Dykema get out of his car on the golf course and take photos of the striking workers. One of the older workers approached the older Dykema to talk, but he got back in his car and drove away.
The union organized itself as far back as the 1950s, while Dykema bought the company in 1986. Despite the previous boom economy, the pit workers have only had a fifty-cent raise since 2000. Now with a recession, the company is crying poor, and amazingly balanced its books to a perfect zero. Salzwedel said, “We do not want to be on strike, but the management forced us out. I would not be out if things were fair. I would not put my friends, my family, the company or the customers through this. This used to be a five star company, but now there is no dignity. We Teamsters do our job with pride, but the management is running the company down. It is a shame.”
Union-busting attorney Pete Kok opened negotiations with the line, “Find a different job.” He has repeated it again and again to men who have worked their whole lives to make the company a success. With the strike in motion, the company brought up scab workers and drivers from Ohio. The scabs began driving, but no concrete mixers have been seen. The pits began work too, until government inspectors came to check health and safety regulations and stopped work on the pits by lunchtime. There is now a security company patrolling the pits and watching the gate entrances. The quality of the product is now in question, as well as the safety of the scabs now working dangerous jobs.
As gawking golfers drove past a crowd of 70 or 80 picketers in front of a huge Teamster trailer truck, members and officers of the Michigan Nurses Association, SEIU, UAW Local 19, IWW and Iron Workers Local 340 held a solidarity rally. Michigan State House Representative Matt Dillon spoke about the unions offering givebacks, while the owners just want to increase the immense amount of wealth they have. Dillon praised the Teamsters for standing up for themselves, but also for all working families. Michael Johnston, a labor reporter and candidate for County Commissioner, spoke in solidarity. The Teamsters then announced a statewide, all union mobilization to support the Grand Rapids Gravel strike in the coming weeks.
Closing the rally and firing people up was union steward Craig Salzwedel. He thanked his fellow workers, “Stay focused, cheer each other up, it is time to move forward…we are asking for a fair contract and to get back to work, before Dykema ruins the image of this company. We gotta send him that message today, next week, and the week after that, until we knock that empire down!”