Circuit-Wise workers: No to concessions

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – “This company is asking for so many concessions, we would be paying Circuit-Wise to work for them, instead of them paying us for our labor,” charged Dorothy Johnson, president of United Electrical Workers Local 299 at a plant gate rally held here July 15.

Area union members and community supporters greeted workers as they came off the first shift with the message that they are not alone. Even though there are not many workers left at this component parts manufacturer for the auto industry, union brothers and sisters pledged to stand by them in the fight to win a decent contract, call back those on layoff, and create more jobs.

The company, in and out of bankruptcy, has demanded steep concessions in wages and benefits, using the threat of a plant closing. “What the company is asking this year would basically turn Circuit-Wise into a temp agency with no benefits and no overtime,” said Johnson. “It is unbearable.”

In addition to 10 percent across the board wage cuts on wages averaging $12 an hour, the company wants to eliminate life insurance and sick and accident benefits; reduce vacation time; and require employee weekly contributions for health insurance as high as $185 per week.

When the workers pointed out that it is impossible to afford such high health insurance payments, the company dismissed them saying, “Get on Husky.” Husky is the health care assistance program for children in low-income families.

The struggle for union recognition at Circuit-Wise became a national cause in the late ’80s and early ’90s, attracting support from across the state and as far away as Canada. It took a three-year battle and a 17-month strike to win a first contract.

The Mettler brothers, Yale graduates who owned the company, repeatedly proclaimed that never, over their dead bodies, would there be a union at their plant. Now, many union contracts later, their sons are running the show. These younger bosses carry their dads’ same old agenda: to do away with UE Local 299.

What Circuit-Wise workers face is not just a local problem, but part of the need to rebuild the manufacturing base of our country. Workers at Circuit-Wise are eligible for Trade Readjustment Act benefits, as victims of a company that built a Maquiladora plant in Mexico, although it has since been closed. When Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) came to the plant last year at the union’s request, she remarked on the size and potential of the facility. The brothers did not respond to any ideas to expand production and jobs.

The Mettlers will stop at nothing to get higher profits. They have taken full advantage of the anti-labor atmosphere created by the Bush administration.

On the picket line outside the shop, union members from UNITE HERE at Yale, UE at Sargents, Machinists at U.S. Repeating Arms, and SEIU District 1199 pledged to stand with UE 299 at Circuit-Wise for as long as it takes. These same unions are among the many mobilizing to get out the vote to defeat George W. Bush and take back Congress on Nov. 2.

The author can be reached at joelle.fishman @ pobox.com.