The picket line outside Cretex’s concrete plant in Shakopee swelled with supporters yesterday, as more than 200 people rallied behind 38 striking members of Laborers Local 536 who are fighting for their retirement security.
The crowd included Laborers International Union President Terry O’Sullivan, state and local labor leaders and the highest-ranking members of the Minnesota Legislature, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Speaker of the House Paul Thissen.
Cretex workers have been on strike since June 19, fighting the company’s attempt to replace their defined-benefit pensions with a 401(k) plan. Workers say the change would amount to a $4-per-hour cut in their wages – and squander pension contributions many have been making for decades.
“We work hard for our pensions. We fund them. We do the right thing,” Laborers Local 563 Business Manager Tim Mackey said. “We’re not going to let someone take them away. That’s what this fight is about.”
Mackey asked supporters to call Cretex CEO Lynn Schuler at 763-441-2121 and “let him know that Minnesota workers deserve better from a Minnesota-based company.”
O’Sullivan, a fiery speaker, noted Cretex had funded workers’ pensions over the years because Local 563 negotiated it into workers’ collective-bargaining agreement with the company, trading wage increases and other benefits in order to remain in the Laborers’ pension plan.
“Where did that money come from?” O’Sullivan asked of the pension contributions. “It came out of your pocket.”
O’Sullivan praised the strikers for taking on a fight playing out across the country.
“This is ground zero,” he said. “Every time you pick up the paper … somebody is trying to destroy defined-benefit pension plans. Today it’s Minnesota; tomorrow it will be somewhere else.
“I get that. You get that. And that’s why losing is not an option. That’s why the next time we’re on that side of the fence, we’ll have a defined-benefit pension plan, brothers and sisters.”
Legislative leaders, meanwhile, called on Cretex to do right by the employees who have helped make the Elk River-based company profitable.
“Let’s hash this out,” Bakk said. “Let’s get back to the bargaining table so we can end this.”
U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken sent members of their staff to the rally with letters of support, as did Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District.
“You need to know that after years of hard work you can count on a secure retirement,” Ellison’s letter said. “I will continue to stand with Local 536 as you push for a secure retirement.”
Although retirement benefits are the sticking point in negotiations between the union and Cretex, Mackey said Local 563 has reached out to management about civil rights charges filed with Equal Employment Opportunities Commission last week by 15 Cretex workers, alleging the company mistreated Latino employees.
“That call has yet to be acknowledged by (Cretex),” Mackey said. “That is a big part of this strike. We will not tolerate that treatment of workers – not in this day and age.”
Follow the striking workers on Facebook for updates on negotiations and ways you can show your support.