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Manitowoc machinists on strike

By staff |
December 12, 2011
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Rally in support of striking machinists
Rally in support of striking machinists (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Thousands of union members and supporters rallied here, Dec. 10 in support of the 200 workers of Manitowoc Crane who are currently on strike.

The workers, members of the International Aerospace and Machinists Local 516, are striking over Manitowoc Crane's "Freedom of Choice" proposal, which would allow workers to opt out of the union and union dues while still receiving the benefits of union representation. Company management suggests that the provisions in the contract are meant to give the workers a choice in whether to belong to the union, but union members, including Machinist Vice President Philip Gruber, say the provision is, "simply union busting." Shortly after the proposal was introduced, the workers made their choice by voting 183-2 against the contract and commenced a strike action.

As of Dec. 8, Manitowoc Crane had hired unskilled scabs to continue production during the strike. Within only a few days of work, severe injuries had been reported due to lack of training, with one losing two fingers in a machine, and two other scabs out with severe back injuries. While the machinists are ready to go back to negotiations, they are committed to not signing a contract that includes a "Freedom of Choice" proposal.

The machinists are reportedly receiving $150 dollars a week to pay their bills and feed their families through their strike fund. Phil Neuenfeld, the President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, said, "A union is about working people coming together to support one another as a community. We have a message for Manitowoc Crane. Now is the time to build a future for our children, not destroy it."

Union members and supporters from around the state came out to demonstrate their support, with unions from all areas of the economy, including the Teamsters, Boilermakers, Steelworkers, Ironworkers, AFSCME, IBEW, SEIU, United Food and Commercial Workers, OPEIU, United Auto Workers and AFT. Each union presented donations to the machinists, often in the thousands of dollars.

Ironworkers Local 8 member Randy Brice said, "It’s an honor to be here. We're not behind the Machinists, we're right beside them."

Manitowoc Crane has further angered its workers by laying off roughly 150 members of the Boilermakers Union due to backed up work caused by the strike. These workers cannot receive unemployment compensation and are left waiting for the company to work with the Machinists for a contract that both can accept.

Many see this as the first attack on private unions inspired by Governor Scott Walker, who earlier in the year stripped public sector unions of their basic rights to collective bargaining. The crowd was united in its opposition to Governor Walker and eager for the coming recall, which is seen by many as a rebirth of the state's labor movement.

As of this writing, not a single worker has crossed the picket line and gone back to work.