As the Labor Review went to press, longtime workers at the Fabcon manufacturing plant in Savage were walking picket lines while their employer was busing in unskilled temporary workers to attempt to do their dangerous jobs – a move that sent one temp worker to the emergency room with painful and dangerous burns on his feet.
Members of Laborers Local 563 voted 52-2 April 3 to reject a company contract offer that would have cut their pay by about 30 percent by eliminating the workers’ current pay differential for weekend work. The workers went out on strike April 5.
Their picket line at the Fabcon plant on Highway 13 got a visit April 6 from Margaret Anderson Kelliher, speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives, who told them, “I think what you’re fighting for is important here.”
“Employers are pushing down on the worker,” Kelliher told about 50 picketers gathered outside the plant. “You’re on the front lines of this issue we see almost everywhere in Minnesota.” She urged the workers: “Stay strong on this issue.”
Striking workers said their jobs at Fabcon regularly brought work days as long as 16 or more hours and short notice to work weekends.
“That’s what’s needed to be done to get the job done,” said Dave Hotzler, Shakopee, who has worked seven years at the plant. “If you’re tired, you can’t go home.”
“We didn’t mind working the weekends as long as we were paid fairly,” said Bob Sticha, New Prague, who has worked at the plant since it opened in 1971.
Under the current contract, which expired January 31, workers who worked Monday through Friday earned time and one-half for working Saturday and earned double time for working Sunday. The company proposed scheduling work weeks beginning any day of the week and eliminating the extra pay for Saturday and Sunday work.
“Now they want to work us weekends but they wouldn’t be paying that good compensation for missing our family functions,” said Phil Edberg, Belle Plaine, an eight-year employee. “The kids – there are times when they forget who you are.”
“We’re not asking for anything. We’re just asking to keep the contract we have,” said Hotzler.
In addition to demanding long, unpredictable hours at Fabcon, management also expects fewer workers to do more: “We used to have crews of eight guys. Now they’ve got it down to five or four guys,” said Larry Wermerskirchen, who has worked at Fabcon since 1977.
Wermerskirchen described work at the Fabcon plant: “Rough working conditions. Dirty. Dusty. Heat and cold.”
The company produces pre-cast concrete wall panels for the construction industry.
“It’s not easy work – It’s a very dangerous job. We’ve seen many bones broken,” said Tae Kim, Jordan, who has worked 14 years at the plant. “At least they were paying us for it. We just want what’s fair.”
The company and the union met for eight contract negotiation sessions, including three sessions with a state mediator.
“It was all one-sided,” reported Wermerskirchen, who is a Local 563 steward at the plant and a member of the negotiating committee. “What about the word respect? How about loyalty? Faith?”
“Most of the guys who are standing out here have been here at least seven years,” noted Jason Huckabone, Lakeville, a 16-year employee. Some of the Fabcon’s Savage workers who have worked there 20 years, 30 years, or more.
“I’m an old-school guy,” Wermerskirchen said. “When a guy works hard and shows his loyalty, respect him. We’re the best asset the company has.”
Workers believe their work stoppage soon will have a major impact on the company.
Fabcon’s Savage plant currently is supplying pre-cast concrete panels for a major federal government project in Colorado, workers said, where the contractor reportedly had only a few days of inventory on hand.
The company’s effort to keep the plant running with temporary workers sent one of those untrained, ill-equiped workers to the emergency room April 12 after he suffered lime burns on his feet.
The Labor Review obtained a copy of the letter the worker wrote to Fabcon, reporting how he stood shovelling concrete while standing in a six-inch deep mix of concrete and water, exposing his tennis-shoe clad feet to painful lime burns.
“It’s atrocious. It’s unbelievable,” said Local 563 business manager Tim Mackey, commenting on the worker’s injury report. “We knew that untrained people were coming in” to work at Fabcon as long-time employees walked picket lines outside. “We were worried someone was going to get hurt and now it has happened,” Mackey said.
For updates and more on this story, visit www.workdayminnesota.org.