Labor rallies to support striking Steelworkers in Blaine

About 220 production and maintenance workers are on strike at Carley Foundry in Blaine.

BLAINE – Bosses at Carley Foundry learned an important lesson today. Pick a fight with one Minnesota union, and you’ll get a fight with them all.

About 220 members of United Steelworkers Local 63B began an unfair-labor-practices strike Saturday at the Blaine plant, which supplies parts to aerospace and other firms. Their picket line swelled with supporters over the lunch hour today, after a call for solidarity circulated throughout the local labor movement.

Among those who answered the call: seven union autoworkers from Hudson, Wis., who recently went back to work after a strike of their own at General Motors.

Steven Frisque, a steward in United Autoworkers Local 722, said the labor community’s support never wavered during their 40-day strike. Now, UAW members are motivated to pass that solidarity “back to the people who showed up for us,” he said.

“We just feel it’s what we need to do,” Frisque added. “Whoever else goes on strike, we’re going to be out there helping, showing that we have solidarity with them.

“Workers here (at Carley Foundry), they’re going through the same thing we are. And it’s everywhere. It’s a common theme in this country.”

UAW Local 722 members (L to R) Dashawn Ramsey, Tony Smith, Steven Frisque, Dan Norton, Cristie Blodgett and John Koehler join the solidarity picket in Blaine.

Indeed, just as UAW members made eliminating wage tiers from their contract a rallying cry during the GM strike, Local 63B says a major sticking point in negotiations with Carley has been the company’s demand for a new, lower wage tier for new hires.

But instead of dividing foundry workers, United Steelworkers District 11 Director Emil Ramirez said the company’s push for a  wage tier and other concessions has only inspired them to stick together.

“Carley has broken federal labor laws in its drive to force workers to accept its unfair and unnecessarily concessionary proposals, and we are standing up to demand the fair contract USW members have earned,” Ramirez said. “As one, we will deliver the message to management that our work has dignity and we deserve the company’s respect.”

The work stoppage at Carley Foundry comes amidst an uptick in the number of strikes happening across the U.S.

Last year, more American workers were involved in major work stoppages than in any year since 1986. Last month alone, some 80,000-plus workers were on strike at GM and in the Chicago Public Schools.

The wave of workplace activism reflects dissatisfaction with the return working people have seen on the last decade of economic growth, said Brad Lehto, secretary-treasurer of the state’s largest labor federation, the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

Minnesota AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Brad Lehto walks the Steelworkers’ picket line outside Carley Foundry. (photo courtesy Chris Shields)

“Broadly speaking, during the recession there were a lot of concessions given by working people, including by these folks, to help companies survive,” Lehto said. “Now, employers generally are doing well and making more money than ever, but they don’t want to give anything back.

“We’re out here today to say no more. We’re not taking any more of this.”

Union autoworkers ended their strike after ratifying a new contract that, although it didn’t include everything they wanted, did succeed in reducing the gap between veteran workers and their more recently hired co-workers. Frisque called it a “stepping stone” that, he hopes, union negotiators will look to build on the next time they negotiate with GM.

“The younger people and the temps did get some improvements in vacation and pay, and the company would not have given us those things just because they like us,” Frisque said. “That’s not how it works. It’s going to be a fight every step of the way, as I’m sure it is for these guys here.”

The good news for Carley Foundry workers? They’re not fighting alone.

“One union’s fight is every union’s fight,” Lehto said. “Hopefully, the employer will do the right thing. But we’re here, along with all the other unions standing in solidarity with the Steelworkers, to make sure they do.”

The Steelworkers union says the best way for supporters to show solidarity is to join them on the picket line at 8301 Coral Sea Street Northeast in Blaine. Striking workers also welcome donations of hot food and beverages.

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