This is a story about how both a company and City Hall let down workers. Whether there was any collusion or not, readers can decide for themselves.
I first met Tina Stamm at an Ed FitzGerald campaign event at the Warren County Democratic Headquarters on July 12th. She is one of the 174 members of UAW Local 2387 who have been locked out of their jobs by Japanese auto supplier Hayashi Telempu North America (HTNA) in Lebanon, Ohio. Many of these workers’ last day was Flag Day, June 14th. They have been picketing outside the company’s four entrances 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Tina was at the event to meet Ed FitzGerald and take WCDP-donated food back to the workers.
When I visited the picket line, the story they told astounded me. The company and its workers entered into negotiations to renew their contract expiring May 31st. The company wanted to cut workers’ pay by about $2.50 an hour (up to a 15% cut of their $17-20/hour wage) or increase their contribution to their health insurance by a factor of three! Just as you and I would have done, they made a counter-proposal. After a 2-week contract extension, HTNA suddenly locked out the workers. HTNA wouldn’t negotiate, talk to the press, or work with federal mediators.
This was a premeditated act. For the previous 6 weeks the workers were told they had to work mandatory overtime to meet “increased demand”. What they were really doing is building up the company’s inventory so the company could meet orders while they recruited and bused in 400 temporary workers, many of whom came from out of state.
The company did everything they could to make the workers’ lives miserable. It terminated the workers’ health insurance and life insurance policies. When some workers tried to move their 401K accounts to get access to cash, HTNA froze them.
Because this is a lockout, and not a strike, Tina and the other workers are eligible for unemployment. But unemployment covers at most 50% of one’s previous salary, and the benefits will run out in January. Many of these workers, just like half of all Oho families, were living paycheck to paycheck. Now many of them are in danger of losing their homes. Thankfully, the UAW provides them health insurance.
The workers have been trying desperately to get attention for their situation and put pressure on the company to come back to the table. The problem is that the plant at 1500 Kingsview Drive is well off the beaten path, so few people see them picketing. The lockout has gotten almost no press since the initial week. I was shocked to learn that NONE of our political leaders have spoken with the workers, nor have they tried to help mediate the dispute…not Lebanon’s Mayor or City Council Members, no State Representative or Senator, no County Commissioner, no Governor.
I decided something had to be done. I started posting on my campaign Facebook page and promoting the workers’ cause to the people of Lebanon and HTNA’s home in Nagoya City, Japan (where I am sure they have a sterling reputation they would like to maintain). I crashed a John Kasich campaign event and introduced the workers to every Republican leader I could find – there wasn’t a lot of sympathy in the room. Lebanon Mayor Amy Brewer said she was “aware of the situation”. State Senator Shannon Jones felt this was a “private dispute”. The Governor said, “The relationship between business and labor in Ohio is generally pretty good. When that breaks down, it concerns me.” The Governor said he would look into the situation, but I see no evidence that he did.
The workers just want to go back to work. Some have worked there for 25 years and consider the company family. They were proud in 2011 to work overtime to help the company meet demand after the tsunami knocked out one of its Japanese plants. They are fairly paid for the skilled work they do.
I am writing today because the City of Lebanon has just delivered the workers a blow to the gut. They are allowed to picket in the public right of way with a permit issued by the City, which is renewed every 30 days. When I first met the workers, they were grateful to the City for the permit – they have a place to park and install port-o-lets. However, with the temperature starting to drop, City Manager Pat Clement has made changes to the permit which could prove dangerous. Mr. Clement has added a rule that “No fires, ‘warming barrels’, grills, or electric generators may be used within the rally area.” So in other words, there is no way to stay warm at 3am when the temperature drops into the 20’s. The City says it doesn’t want to interfere with biker’s enjoyment of the bike path…which is across the street. The city has also refused to allow tents on the picket line…so there is no shelter from the rain or snow. The security guards the company has hired have tents, and the company has a generator powering lights not 15 feet from the picketers. The hypocrisy is stunning.
The National Labor Relations Board has ruled against the lockout illegal and has ordered the employees back to work. The workers are exercising their right to assembly and free speech to right this wrong. Why is the City making this so hard? The workers plan to appeal to the Lebanon City Council at their meeting on Tuesday, September 23rd at 7 pm. I urge those citizens who are concerned about this situation to come to 50 S. Broadway in Lebanon and show solidarity with these workers. They are just asking for the City to show a little humanity.
The HTNA workers have taught me that the very act of running for office is a public service. Win or lose, if I can make a difference in people’s lives, then all my efforts are worth it. A Lutheran minister I met recently told me “The very act of asking a question changes the environment.” Let’s see if together we can make the environment a little warmer for these dedicated locked out workers.
Rick Smith is the Democratic candidate for state representative in Ohio’s 54th district. You can find out more about Smith and his campaign at his website: MrSmithGoesToColumbus.com
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