By Carolyn Barbre
Think of a Marine Corps type cadence. One worker was on the bullhorn leading the chant.
"Champion, Champion you're no good,
Treat your workers like you should!"
There were a lot of snappy slogans in both English and Spanish. "What do we want? Workers rights! When do we want it? Now! Ahora!"
About 35 men were picketing outside of Champion Home Builders on Palm Avenue in Lindsay last Friday - of those that were left. Some had already departed on this latest one-day walkout. It was 10 a.m.
Dave Lupo, Field Representative for the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council in Oakland, contacted the Gazette from his Oakland office. "We've been having our regular non-productive sessions," he said. "The atmosphere of harassment and fear and intimidation has continued."
Lupo said this walkout was sparked by one of the union shop stewards, Adam Castillo, being "harassed by co-workers acting as agent provocateurs." Lupo said that Castillo's supervisor, Steve Strong, had been reporting to Jim Stewart, the General Manager at the Lindsay Champion facility, that Castillo had been doing shoddy work.
"But when Adam went to quality control inspectors they said his work was as excellent as it has always been," Lupo said.
On the picket line Castillo said he will have six years with the company in August, and all of a sudden he wasn't allowed to work overtime even though people with less time were.
"I was being harassed by my foreman. I tried to complain to Stewart," he said. "I asked if I would get to work overtime again if I quit the union and negotiations and all that stuff. He said yeah, he would talk to some people."
Lupo said such activities by plant management is "not only heinous, but is against the law - to discriminate against employees for their union activity."
On direct questioning, Stewart said, "I won't talk about that type of thing." He said the strikers were only 24 of 164 employees, the rest of whom were continuing to work. "We follow the law and will continue to and that's all I wish to say," he said, standing in the reception area of the plant.
Paul Guirrero, who is also a shop steward and has been on the front lines of fighting for unionization from the beginning, said there are only 120 non-management workers and a lot of pro-union workers have already been driven off. "What he [Stewart] doesn't seem to get through his head is were not only fighting for better wages and benefits but also for fairness." He said when a petition is circulated it seldom has less than 65 signatures endorsing union causes, but usually 75 or 80. And he said people are also afraid to lose what little gains they have made, and are intimidated if they are pro-union.
On the phone Lupo said, "So when we were at the table the other day, Adam was there much to Jim's surprise and he confronted Jim [Stewart] with his story and Jim denied it of course." He went on to say that Hugh Beswick, Vice President of Human Resources from Corporate headquarters in Michigan, who has been attending the negotiations, "skirted the whole issue. They continue to break the law and Hugh continues this veil of innocence. We told them we can't continue to negotiate with a gun against our head. These workers have been up against a wall for over two years now. We can't continue to bring a negotiating committee to the Visalia Convention Center when back at the plant they have to deal with fear and intimidation."
Beswick was out of the office back at Corporate in Michigan until after press time.
Champion was last ordered back to the bargaining table on Aug. 22, 2003, after Judge Robert E. Coyle with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California found Champion Home builders in Lindsay was engaged in unfair labor practices. Carpenters Union Local No. 119, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, was certified on April 10, 2001 as the collective bargaining representative for Champion's employees. On April 18, 2002 Champion unlawfully withdrew recognition of the Union and disallowed the union its statutory role of negotiating about the terms and conditions for Champion employees until ordered back to the table last August.
Last Friday employees were voicing the same complaints they had in 2001.
"How can we negotiate in good faith if we're not given proper documentation?" Guirrero asked rhetorically as he leaned on his picket sign. This is one of the unfair labor practices Champion has already been found guilty of, "failure to provide information to the union representative upon request," according to court documents.
Another complaint is that pro-union employees are passed over for promotion. Management was informed of the one-day walkout with a petition, based on the unfair labor practices. They were scheduled to be back on the job at their regular time on Monday, March 8.