JACKSON COUNTY, MI – Hail, lightening and rain hasn’t stopped employees on strike at manufacturers in Jackson and Calhoun counties, who are asking to keep their pension and days off for doctor visits.
Nineteen employees at Miller Tool & Die in Jackson have been on strike since Sept. 17, and 35 employees at Albion Casters have been on strike since Sept. 25. Striking workers are all part of International Association of Machinists Local 435.
Both factories have employees outside 24/7, through rain, hail, wind and low overnight temperatures. It’s the first strike in more than 28 years for both.
“It’s been cold, and it’s been wet,” Local 435 President Jamie Miller said Friday, Oct. 2. Miller is an employee at Miller Tool & Die and has no affiliation with the company owners.
Employees go on strike at Jackson factory: ‘We want our pension’
Employees at Albion Casters, 800 N. Clark St., worked throughout the shutdown at the start of the coronavirus pandemic because they were deemed essential workers, employee Benjamin Speer said. They received a $2-an-hour hazard pay raise until July, but it’s unclear why that stopped since the pandemic is ongoing, Speer said.
“After being told we were critical, essential workers, it was a kick in the gut,” employee Don Collins said.
During negotiations, Albion Casters owner, Colson Group USA, wanted to cut the number of unpaid days for doctor’s visits from four to two and mandate overtime on Saturdays and possibly holidays, Speer said. That would mean employees work 56 hours a week instead of 48.
Colson Group USA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Reducing the number of unpaid days employees can take for doctor’s visits doesn’t make sense, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Collins said. He said management told employees they needed to explain why they couldn’t go to the doctor outside of their 56-hour work weeks, Collins said but the long work week means it’s difficult to make appointments.
“It’s just not right for a company – during a pandemic – to take away healthcare days,” Collins said.
The union hasn’t heard from management about returning to negotiations, Speer said.
“We want to go back to the table,” Collins said. “We don’t want to be out here. We want to be in there, doing our job.”
Journeymen at Miller Tool & Die, 829 Belden Road, were on strike for their 16th day on Friday, Oct. 2, and the picket line has been crossed twice, Miller said. Once was a truck to ship a machine that had a delivery due date of Sept. 30 and another was a truck picking up parts, he said.
The company declined to comment on the ongoing strike on Friday.
“None of this is fun at all,” Miller said. “It’s not good for them. It’s not good for us.”
Miller Tool & Die Co.’s best and final offer included ending the pension program, increasing health insurance premiums and freezing wages, per previous reporting. Ending the pension was a big reason they voted to strike, employees said.
“We didn’t want to strike, but when you take away a family’s retirement, that hurts,” Miller said. “We’re not trying to hurt this company – we’re trying to keep our pensions.”
Most employees chose to work at Miller Tool & Die because the pension was worth it, despite making a lower hourly wage than other factories in the area, Local 435 Financial Officer Eric Sabin said.
When the strike started, everyone hoped it would only last a few days, former Local 435 President Randy Ramirez said. Now, employees are without health insurance because they ended Sept. 30. Many of the employees have kids at home, they said.
If the company continues to refuse to negotiate, the union is may file an unfair labor practice with the, Miller said.
The union went into negotiations knowing it was a tough year for the company because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sabin said.
“We went in trying to maintain what we had before, with a small raise to cover increase of health insurance,” Sabin said.
People driving by both factories frequently honk to show support, employees said, adding there’s rarely anyone who shows their displeasure.
“We’ve had support from the community from food to firewood to grabbing a sign and walking,” Ramirez said.
As soon as either company is willing to negotiate, the union will be there, multiple employees said. For now they continue to wait while holding “Employees on Strike” signs outside their factories.
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