From the Roquette corn milling facility in Keokuk, Iowa, to American Crystal Sugar in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota and Cooper Tires in Findlay, Ohio, employers are turning to lockouts as a tactic to force union workers to accept major concessions when contract negotiations deadlock.
For the BCTGM, the lockout of 1,300 workers at American Crystal Sugar is the most glaring example of the lengths to which employers will go to bust the union. On August 1, American Crystal – the nation’s largest sugar beet processor – locked out BCTGM members at facilities in Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota. Despite nearly $2 billion in profits over the last three years, the company continues to demand that workers agree to higher health benefit payments, outsourcing jobs and the elimination of other benefits. When workers refused, the company locked its doors, hired 900 replacement workers and the lockout is now in its seventh month.
But American Crystal isn’t alone in its use of the lockout as a bargaining tactic. In 2010, 240 members of BCTGM Local 48G (Keokuk, Iowa) were locked out by Roquette at its corn milling facility. The lockout lasted 10 months before a new contract was reached.
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. locked out 1,050 United Steel Workers (USW) November 28 after they rejected massive concessions. Cooper Tire workers had taken $31 million in pay and benefits cuts years earlier to keep the company running through the recession. When the economy improved and Cooper Tire started to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, the executives gave themselves huge raises and bonuses. The workers were asked to give up more, and when they refused, were locked out.
“Give in to us, or lose your paycheck. The lockout is as simple and as complicated as this,” notes BCTGM International President Frank Hurt. “When workers won’t give up their pensions, pay more for health care, accept pay cuts or sacrifice job security – they are locked out. It is a vicious tactic used by companies that want to bust the union and gain greater control over its workers. The lockout is a power play,” Hurt adds.
Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., told the New York Times that the lockout “is a sign of increased employer militancy. Lockouts were once so rare they were almost unheard of. Now, not only are employers increasingly on the offensive and trying to call the shots in bargaining, but they’re backing it up with action – in the form of lockouts.”
According to New York Times writer Steven Greenhouse, lockouts have grown to represent a large percentage of the nation’s work stoppages. Last year, at least 17 employers imposed lockouts, telling their workers not to show up until they were willing to accept management’s contract offer.
“Lockouts are, and will always be, things willed into being exclusively by management.
They are not natural phenomena. They are never truly unavoidable. They don’t ‘just happen,’ and they certainly do not occur because ‘both sides’ are at fault. Lockouts occur when management believes that unions are too strong, and they occur when management believes that unions are too weak, and they occur when management doesn’t want a union to exist at all. Lockouts are not devices of economic correction. That’s just a byproduct. Lockouts are attempts by management to exercise control over their workers,” writes political journalist Charles Pierce.