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Southern Labor on the Move...

Speedrack Workers Stand Strong

by Sherida Hudak |
July 1, 2000
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Man with bandaged head in hospital bed.
Striker injured in attack by scab. (Fight Back! News/Sherida Hudak)
Group of Steelworkers at Speedrack
Speedrack workers in Hamilton, Alabama are determined to win this strike.

Hamilton, AL - "This is a fight to the death. We will not let the scabs have this plant. If we can't have it, we will shut it down," vowed the local United Steel Workers of America membership.

Steelworkers on strike at Speedrack Products Group Ltd. since January 31, continue a battle that will last "one day longer" than the company's resolve. Many of the members are accustomed to long-term fights, some have participated in previous strikes at other workplaces and a good number have been fighting for a union at Speedrack for nine years.

Since 1991, the Alabama company's practice of using work release prisoners has increased so that they make up about half of the workforce. The union won recognition in September of 1999 after the U.S. Court of Appeals determined that the ballots of work release prisoners at Speedrack must be counted. Now the members are demanding a fair contract.

When the only other union in town, the United Auto Workers, came out in support of the approximately 100 steelworkers, local police tried to prevent their demonstration. The police cited the injunction against the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) as reason to stop the UAW protest, although local police did not even have jurisdiction in injunction enforcement.

Marion County's Judge Aderholt, a Republican who owns his own plant in the vicinity and is the father of Congressman Robert Aderholt, handed down the injunction against the steelworkers. It severely limits their picketing and allows only five USWA members to demonstrate at two locations in view of the plant. It keeps the union 30 feet from the gate. It prevents picketing on public roads immediately surrounding the company and even restrains them to no closer than five feet to the opposite side of the road.

Even with the county's 9.5% unemployment rate and the inability of the work release prisoners to participate in the picket prior to the injunction, the strikers had successfully stopped production.

The mayor and police chief provide Speedrack with full time police service. Strikers have been accused of, and arrested for foul language. Meanwhile, as the cops sat at the company, scabs threw bombs at the strikers. A member's truck was burnt in his driveway. Another scab, wielding a lead pipe, beat a member on picket duty, who was videotaping those crossing the line. Police classified the bombings as "littering" and insisted that the beating had been provoked.

In a meeting with federal mediation, Speedrack stood on its final offer, removing the eight-hour day as standard, changing employee status to part-time for 36 hours or less, removing heath care benefits and lowering the average wage below $7.75. They intend for employees to remain off work for one week without pay during the holiday season, to pay for uniforms, and to purchase their own tools.

Recently, the mediator indicated that the company was willing to meet a second time and the negotiation committee made the nearly 100-mile trip to Birmingham again. Speedrack's only object at the meeting appeared to be an opportunity for manager Tom Whitaker and company attorney Ron Passarrelli, of the firm Wessels and Pautsch, to express pleasure with their new scab workforce.

Back in Hamilton, strikers maintain the picket 24 hours a day and are stubbornly digging in for this hard fight for their first contract. Recently, they have erected a permanent structure at the site and raised the American flag. They appreciated their previous strike headquarters, maintained out of generosity at the local UAW hall, but they have found office space in the center of town, across from the Marion County courthouse. The Steelworkers have formed a citizen's coalition to elect new city government officials and are looking forward to the summer elections.