Journey for Justice

By Rachel Martin

February 26, 2012 Updated Feb 28, 2012 at 12:21 AM EDT

WOODBURN, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – The United Steelworkers (USW) and Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) stopped at USW Local 715 in Woodburn during their “Journey for Justice”, a protest trip against the lockouts brought on by American Crystal Sugar Co. and Cooper Tire and Rubber Co.

“The journey has been emotional at times because of the struggle with the American worker,” said 55-year-old Robert Greer. “It’s a trip very worth while to show solidarity within our unions in the United States.”

“Journey for Justice” is a 1,000 mi. journey through six Midwestern states, beginning in Fargo, N.D. on Feb. 22 and ending in Findlay, Ohio on Feb. 27. The journey is in protest to company lockouts and living wages being dropped. Union workers stopped at USW Local 715 in Woodburn Sunday for a lunch break. Greer says as a USW member he has ties to Woodburn because of the BF Goodrich plant and the feeling of “solidarity.”

“It’s the compassion shown toward each other and the relationship from worker to worker. If you’re having a problem, it’s everybody’s problem,” Greer said.

Greer works for Cooper Tire and Rubber Co., in Findlay and is a member of USW Local 207L. Greer has been “locked out” from working since Nov. 28, 2011, and is making this journey to inform communities that what happened to him can happen to anyone.

“The corporations are trying to manipulate wages and take away our rights to collective bargaining,” said Greer. “We don’t want to compromise making a good living in this country.”

Nathan Rham is from Hillsboro, N.D. and works for American Crystal Sugar Co. He agrees with Greer and says people need to know how the current changes in unions will affect their lives, especially people in Indiana.

“I come from a RTW state, and we have people that are on both sides of the fence. We have several facilities in Minn., which isn’t a RTW state. They don’t have as many issues as we do. We don’t have unemployment in the state of N.D., there really isn’t any assistance programs for anybody in our state compared to Minn.,” Greer said. “I think it’s important for us, especially in a state like this, to let people know that RTW is not a good thing.”

Rham is also facing a lockout at Crystal Sugar. Workers there have been “locked out” since Aug. 1, 2011. He says he doesn’t understand why Cooper Tire and Crystal Sugar are demanding more cut-backs when their profits are increasing.

“They’re both companies that, financially, did very well. [Crystal Sugar] had record profits last year, the most money they’ve ever made,” said Rham. “And they want us to take concessions and use our seniority and things that have been built into the contract, collective bargaining and things like that, that have been there for years.”

Crystal Sugar profited nearly $2 billion over the last three years, and Cooper Tire workers sacrificed $31 million in pay and benefits to save the company. Greer says company executives keep telling them global trade is causing the problem.

“But it’s not. It’s a part of it, but it’s not the real reason. It’s ‘profits over employees’,” said Greer.

Greer says he’s worked long enough to build up some savings, but he fears for younger workers who are projected to make only $13 an hour. He says that’s not enough to save and invest for their futures.

“This is a fight that I’m in for—the future of the younger worker,” Greer said. “All these companies are moving everything overseas. Without manufacturing and without a manufacturing program in this country, we’re not going to be able to offer anyone a good living-wage job.”

Union workers say they only have 100 mi. left in their journey and plan to be in Findlay by Sunday night. They said they’ll also make stops in Columbus, Ohio and Mason City, Iowa for some last minutes events on their return home.

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