UAW Members Still Protesting After One Year

By Rachel Martin

June 18, 2012 Updated Nov 4, 2013 at 7:01 PM EDT

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – A year ago, employees at Coupled Products, LLC in Columbia City walked-out in protest of unfair labor practices and cut wages.

“A lot of people are losing things, but most of us are hanging on to everything we have. We’re just doing the best we can do,” said Hazel Parker, former assembly worker.

Members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2049 have been protesting every day and say they'll continue, until they see results.

“It’s pretty tough. It’s pretty tough on everything, your time and your money and your family,” said Hazel Parker a former worker. “Sometimes I wonder if we'll get back in at all, but who knows. We're not giving up.”

Coupled Products, LLC is based in Michigan with plants located in Rochester Hills, Mich., Mexico and Columbia City. The plant manufactures metal fittings that connect hose and tube assemblies for the auto, construction, agricultural and appliance industries.

One year ago to the day, Parker and her 54 co-workers were offered a new contract by Coupled Products, LLC that cut wages by 33 percent. Parker says that’s about $170 a week and another $130 with insurance, making a grand total of $300 in losses a week. Also, their vacation time was cut in half. Union members say the contract was a step in the wrong direction.

“Some people have been here for 31 to 42 years. Why go backwards?” said Laura, another protester.

Tina Johnson, Director of U.S. Operations, says cuts were necessary to keep the plant from moving to Mexico. In November 2010, Johnson says Coupled Products’ International office discussed closing the Columbia City plant and moving it to Mexico unless changes could be made to the employee concessionary package, which was to be renewed in June 2011.

“As a company we were making money, but the Columbia City facility itself was losing money,” Johnson said. “Obviously we want to keep our footprint in the U.S.”

Johnson says part of the new contract was making pay cuts to unskilled workers. “When we looked at competitive wages in the area, we were overpaying for the work that they do.”

Johnson says the employees were given the manufacturer’s last best offer, but they rejected the contract and never made a counter offer.

“Once they asked us for our last best offer, we provided that but we never heard anything else from them other than just close the doors. They're telling people that we haven't sat back down with them, but to be honest they haven't asked us to sit back down with them,” she said.

In the meantime, Johnsons says she hired 65 permanent replacement workers. They do not have a new contract but are working under the condition of the last best contract offer instead. As far the UAW, Johnson says some of the workers have crossed the picket line back into the factory. Those workers resigned from the union and new employees never joined.

“I have a long list of people who have been either waiting for work or still want to be hired so there are obviously people in the community that are willing to work for the offer,” said Johnson. “So it’s just been business as usual.”

As for the union members, Parker says the UAW has been very supportive.

“The union has taken really good care of us. A lot of the other unions around us and the other members, they give us money and they give us money and all the things that we need. They stand behind us,” Parker said.

Parker says she and other protesters rotate by taking 8 hr. shifts. They also built a shelter just outside of the Coupled Products’ parking lot. It’s complete with tarps, a solar panel and hanging lights, camping stove and propane tank, a heater for the winter and a port-o-potty. Parker says the UAW paid for the materials and is paying union members $200 a week in strike pay as well as covering employee insurance. Laura says they’re also able to collect unemployment checks.

“So we are doing better than the people inside,” Laura said.

Both Coupled Products and the UAW have lawyers working the case, but no one is sure when the issue will be resolved.

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