February 10, 2009

Revolt on Goose Island: Cleveland can relate


In today’s installment of her ongoing Melville House “Live Book” project, Kari Lydersen checks in on the situation in Cleveland, where a group of workers from the Republic Windows & Doors factory is visiting tonight …

Cleveland, January 10, 2009 — When the Republic Windows workers roll into the Teamsters hall in Cleveland Tuesday evening, they will be greeted by a crowd of local workers with much in common. Cleveland has been hurt by factory closings and overall job losses in the past year, and more are expected. But it is a city with a proud blue collar history and about double the national current level of unionization (14 percent compared to seven percent), so there will be much enthusiasm for the UE’s strategy and victory. Cleveland is also home to the headquarters of KeyCorp (parent of KeyBank), which is in financial distress and got $2.5 billion in TARP bailout money. (As Bank of America did with Merrill Lynch, KeyCorp is using the money to help acquire other institutions).

Debbie Kline, coordinator of Cleveland Jobs with Justice, said the city’s workers have been following the Republic Windows factory occupation since day one. She spoke about it during the organization’s program celebrating the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10. And news of the workers’ settlement and videos are featured on Cleveland Jobs with Justice’s web page.

“There story is just wonderful,” said Kline, who from her 22 years as a social justice organizer was confident the workers would win. “It’s the power of the people – it just shows and proves when people start to organize and come together it can make a difference. That’s why it’s so important to bring the workers here (to Cleveland), to talk about how when you band together you can make a difference. It sounds cliché but it’s true.”

Cleveland union members recently protested at KeyCorp as part of a corporate image campaign parallel in strategy to the nationwide protests asking Bank of America to extend financing to Republic Windows. But in this case, they were opposing KeyCorp’s continued financing of Oak Harbor, a Washington trucking company which the Teamsters accuse of provoking and then illegally breaking a strike starting last fall. (Read more here.)

Before their evening event at Cleveland’s Teamsters hall, the Republic Windows workers will meet with immigrant workers at a chicken processing plant called Case Farms in Winesburg, Ohio. There, about 130 workers unionized with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 880 on strike since July have been replaced by non-union workers. The poultry industry is notorious for unsafe and grueling working conditions. At Case Farms, workers earn an average $8.10 an hour, $2 to $3 less than at other Ohio poultry plants. (Read more here and here.)

Tomorrow: Union members at the Erie, Pa. locomotive factory represented by the UE since 1940 will also welcome Republic Windows workers.