MUSCATINE, Iowa — More than four years after workers were locked out by Grain Processing Corp. and went on strike, local union president Tony Newton said his membership could not agree to the company’s latest offer last week.
Last Thursday, the remaining members of Local 86D of the United Food and Commercial Workers union rejected the company’s most recent offer. Newton, 50, of West Liberty, declined to disclose details of the offer or the margin of defeat following the day-long election.
Through a spokeswoman, Kent Corp., the parent company of GPC, declined comment. Janet Sichterman, Kent Corp.’s senior vice president for human resources and communications, said only that the company was notified of the union’s vote on Friday, Feb. 1.
The consensus among union members has been “that this is not about wages and benefits, but about job security,” said Newton, who maintains his role as president of the local. “The union has agreed to everything except the outsourcing clause.”
The company, he said, can employ “non-contract production workers with no grievance procedure” available to union members.
“We are standing for a cause,” he said, “and that cause is trying to help fight for the middle class and keep good quality jobs in Muscatine.”
Newton said he couldn’t think of a single union member who continues to draw unemployment insurance. Union members have found what he called “survival jobs,” jobs that don’t pay as much as the union members formerly made at GPC.
In the summer of 2008, GPC locked out 360 workers, about 300 of them members of the union after the two sides could not reach an agreement during labor negotiations.
At the time, Newton was a seven-year veteran of GPC’s maintenance department.
Many union members worked with equipment or were in production work, “and that makes them valuable in the workplace today,” he said. “There are a lot of places they’ve gone to, and they have a good work ethic.”
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He said the United Food and Commercial Workers union continues to pay union members $100 per week in strike funds if they will show up to picket at the union office, at 1401 Oregon St.
There’s also help — financial as well as emotional support — from what Newton called a mutual aid pact from other wet milling unions in the United States and Canada.
The next step, Newton said, is for the local to put together another proposal. The lone stumbling block continues to be job security, he said.
“We’ve gone from 40-some issues down to one,” he said. “Are we going to get there? It’s a painstaking process. If I had a crystal ball, I’d be able to tell you whether we’ll get there or not.”
Newton described the mood among union members as “a roller-coaster of emotions. Everyone’s to the point where they want to see closure one way or the other. In the same month, you can be excited and down in the dumps.”
According to the union’s website, no meeting has yet been scheduled with the company as of yet. But the union “remains committed to working to find a solution that everybody can live with and allow our members to go back to work.”