COLUMBUS, Ohio - "This fight is for every American worker," said Jim McClellan, president of International Association of Machinists District 54, addressing a rally this past week of machinists and their supporters at Center City International Trucking (CCIT) on this city's west side.
"These workers are fighting to preserve the pensions that they worked their entire lives for," McClellan said. "If predatory bankers can come in here and steal the pensions these workers earned, then nobody in our nation is safe!"
That was a theme repeated over and over by the machinists manning the informational picket at the IAM rally for justice.
"We've canceled our vacation and just stopped buying anything that isn't a major necessity," said one worker, Bob, who'd worked at CCIT for more than two decades. "I'd planned on taking my pension," he said. "It's getting harder and harder to work in these cold temperatures and we wanted to travel. These days it's all about greed and money. These bankers don't care about anyone but themselves."
Workers at CCIT have had a positive, decent relationship with their employer and, as members of the Machinists union, have looked forward to retiring with a decent, livable pension. That was true for over 40 years, but things have changed.
Three years ago, a banker, Tim Reilly, bought the plant, promising to stand by the union contract, continue to negotiate fairly and continue the good working relationship the union and company had built over the years. However, with the many revelations of bankers' misconduct leading to the massive economic collapse, it has become fairly apparent that the old adage that you'll always know when bankers are lying, because their lips are moving, may apply to CCIT.
When the IAM/CCIT contract expired last November, Reilly demanded that the union give up its health care and pensions, and has refused to negotiate in good faith.
"He's trying to force us to strike, so that he can run scabs in and break our union," said Jeff Closson, a 20-year CCIT worker. "He may not know it yet, but he'll find out that we have solidarity on our side. We do not plan on losing our pensions and health care. We fought too long and too hard to give up."
According to steelworker Paul Santilli, CCIT is following the official corporate playbook. "Companies found that they could dump workers' pensions, and force the public to pick up costs," Santilli said. "Bush helped the steel companies steal USW [Steelworkers union] pensions and, just in Lorain and Stark counties [Ohio], we found that the theft of pensions is costing those counties over $50 million each. The theft of worker's pensions and health care is one of the causes of the economic crisis facing cities, counties and states, as the public picks up basic necessities for these folks."
The Steelworkers union and its retiree organization, SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees), is working with Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Congressman Dennis Kucinich to set up congressional field hearings on this issue in the near future.
"We have some real leverage," said IAM communications rep John Carr. "CCIT workers repair all the school buses in the central Ohio area and they do a major part of ODOT [Ohio Department of Transportation] work for the state. I don't think the public supports the theft of pensions and health care from hard workings families, and they'll let them know that!"
Photo: JCarr/IAM (http://picasaweb.google.com/EasternENews/CCIT_01_29_10_InformationalPicket#)