CHASKA, Minn. - Locked out workers and their supporters from all over the Midwest were on the move yesterday.
The workers locked out from American Crystal Sugar's plant in Mason City, Iowa, traveled north to join the Journey for Justice entourage as it pulled into this Twin Cities suburb.
The rally they held here and a picket line brought together in one big crowd locked-out workers form five Crystal Sugar plants - Mason City, and four Minnesota plants: Chaska, Moorhead, Hillsboro and Drayton - as well as locked-out workers from Cooper Tire in Findlay, Ohio.
Later in the day the Steelworkers announced a tentative agreement had been reached with Cooper Tire to end that lockout. The agreement will be outlined for 1,000 members Saturday and they will vote on it in Findlay on Monday.
Michael Moore, press director for the Journey for Justice, told the People's World today that the Cooper Tire workers would continue on the 1,000-mile Journey for Justice in solidarity with the locked-out American Crystal Sugar workers.
He said that while the locked-out Cooper Tire workers "haven't yet broken out the bottles of champagne, they are guardedly optimistic." Cooper Tire workers had rejected the last contract offer in November. Terms of the new agreement won't be disclosed by the union until members have had their chance to see those terms.
Before rallying and throwing up a picket line here the eight Journey for Justice riders entered CoBank, the primary lender for Crystal Sugar.
They delivered a letter telling the institution's officers that CoBank is incurring increased risk by doing business with Crystal Sugar during the lockout. The letter explained that it is costing the company more money to transport scabs in and out of the facility, in addition to having to feed and house them. The scabs, the letter points out, are also less productive than Crystal Sugar's union workers.
Workers note that the proof is in American Crystal's profits which, according to the letter, fell 39 percent in the first quarter after the lockout began August 1.
A representative of the bank accepted the letter, promising to get it to the bank's executives.
The eight locked-out workers gave CoBank 24 hours to respond to the letter or be faced with a demonstration outside its corporate headquarters later today.
Robert Greer, one of the eight making the 1,000-mile Journey for Justice through six states, was locked out from Cooper Tire after working for the company as an electrician for 22 years. Greer, the Rapid Response Political Action Coordinator for Steelworkers Local 207L, which represents Cooper workers, says companies have what they consider good reasons for paying the high costs of lockouts.
"You have lockouts going on all over for the same reason you have right-to-work-for-less laws being pushed in the states. They want to take advantage of the economic climate and use it to cut pay and benefits and to destroy unions," Greer said.
Greer said it is important that all workers, union and non-union, see the importance of stopping lockouts and other corporate attacks on collective bargaining rights.
"We've lost 58,000 manufacturing plants during this recession," Greer said. "The attacks on unions have created a situation that in a town like mine jobs now start at $8 or $10 an hour. This hurts everyone, including the people not in unions. You can't raise a family on the kind of money they are paying. Everyone needs to see this as their fight."
Photo: Workers from five American Crystal Sugar facilities across the Midwest converge on the plant in Chaska, Minn. Photo courtesy of Bakery Workers union.