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4 Michigan workers fired for organizing union: ‘Right To Work’ laws in practice

By Tom Burke |
May 4, 2013
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Members of United Association 174 protest Michigan tax dollars going to Dahlgren
Members of United Association 174 protest Michigan tax dollars going to Dahlgren Industries. (Photo: Michael Johnston)
Michigan workers Marco Wood and Steve Hoffman protest Dahlgren Industries.
Michigan workers Marco Wood and Steve Hoffman protest Dahlgren Industries.

Coopersville, MI - Over 100 workers and community supporters rallied to oppose the firing of four local Michigan workers by Dahlgren Industrial. Dahlgren fired the workers in retaliation for organizing a union and raising their voices about safety concerns. The workers are also demanding that companies benefiting from Michigan tax dollars and tax breaks hire locally.

Out of 40 pipefitters and plumbers converting an old auto plant, 13 delivered a union organizing petition to the bosses and demanded recognition. Two were soon fired for handing out pro-union leaflets in the parking lot before work.

Next, local workers contacted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to raise concerns about an unsafe work environment. OSHA appeared on April 23, and the next day Dahlgren management fired two more pro-union workers. This is the immediate effect of ‘Right to Work’ laws passed in the winter by Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican Party in Michigan.

One of the workers, Marco Wood, explained, “Dahlgren demanded I sign a safety violation form that was not accurate. When I said ‘no,’ they fired me.”

Fellow worker Steve Hoffman said, “A boss called me over and claimed I was working unsafe, so I said I want to talk to whoever wrote it up. They said I was fired at that point. As I was leaving they told me it was ‘because someone called OSHA.’”

The United Association (UA) Local 174 filed charges with the labor board to get the jobs of these workers back. It will take more than that to win this struggle with Dahlgren Industrial however. Dahlgren is backed by both Michigan’s new ‘Right to Work’ law and benefits from a corporate welfare package approved by Governor Snyder. This includes $900,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) - using tax dollars to fund private big business projects. On top of this, there is tax money of $1.3 million for road improvements benefiting the company. The city of Coopersville also gave it a $127 million, 12-year tax abatement.

After firing local pro-union workers, Dahlgren brought in workers from across the U.S. Cars and trucks pulling out of the parking lot during the picket line had plates from Florida, Idaho and Ohio. These workers are making about half of the local standard wages and benefits. This contradicts what Governor Snyder said to Michigan taxpayers back on January 23. Speaking about tax dollars spent on private corporate projects like the one in Coopersville, Governor Snyder said, “Our reinvention of Michigan is all about more and better jobs for families and bright futures for our children.”

The big construction project in Coopersville is currently converting the old Delphi auto parts plant that was shut down in 2006. The Coopersville parts plant is widely known due to the writings of autoworker and UAW militant Gregg Shotwell and his Live Bait and Ammo newsletters. The new plant will produce “Core Power” - a milk-based drink promoted by Coca-Cola.

Standing under a cloudy west Michigan sky for two hours picketing the plant entrance, the crowd suddenly came alive at noon. A dramatic action took place when ten workers came out of the plant waving union signs. They proceeded towards a cheering crowd and held a union meeting right outside on the public sidewalk. The fired union activists greeted them with big smiles and handshakes. The UFCW, CWA and IBEW all showed their solidarity. Two Michigan State Representatives, Collene Lamonte of Muskegon and Brandon Dillon of Grand Rapids, showed their support. The bold action of these 10 pro-union workers will help other workers to stand up for the pay and dignity all workers deserve.