ROCHELLE — Despite lengthy negotiations at the bargaining table, striking union workers and company officials at Silgan Containers in Rochelle have yet to come to a new contract agreement as the new year begins.
It has been a little over a month since workers of Local 2068 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace (IAMAW) voted to go on strike; the issue is over benefits, wages and working conditions.
Union lodge president Rick Pease said last Friday’s negotiations lasted about 10 hours “with no more movement.”
Union membership overwhelmingly voted to go out in early December after contract negotiations returned an offer most found unfair and unprogressive. Despite winter weather and being out of work during the holidays, resolve among membership is ironclad.
IAM member Sue Wright said that the strike has brought people together.
“We have to look out for one another, we’re family. We’re tough,” Wright added, smiling. “When you have to do something, you have to do it and we’ve done it.”
Together the strikers have constructed two heated shelters and furnished them with the décor of a cabin in the woods including hanging wall art. They have also pitched in together to cut firewood for several burn barrels.
Many have worked in the facility for 20-plus years, and feel that the last two or three contracts were far from fair but were ratified. This time, the group says, tough decisions about the future had to be made.
Anthony Pope, who commutes to Silgan from Rock Falls, has a family with several children at home. He says going with the flow of his co-workers wasn’t easy but was something he had to do.
“Coming into work here, I wasn’t really aware of some of the things that had happened. I’ve only been here about five months, but I was listening to people who had 15 or 20 years here and they had a lot of grievances about things. These guys have been around awhile and they have a sense of the direction to go. I found it good to listen to what they had to say,” Pope said.
“I think the whole thing is terrible. Sure, insurance premiums are increasing. There are more co-pays and higher deductibles, which may have led to the ACA (Affordable Care Act). But who is taking control and trying to put a cap on these ridiculous amounts of money we’re required to pay? The benefits aren’t benefits if they continue to climb in cost and become unaffordable. The insurance deductible since the last working agreement has doubled to now over $3,000.”
Workers acknowledge they chose to strike and put their well-being on the line, but collectively their response has been one of needing to take a stand.
“We had no choice,” said Tim Kasmar, another picketer. “They continue to take and take. Where does it stop? Push has come to shove and there isn’t more to give back.”
Kasmar and others said they believe this labor dispute has been 10 years in the making, with continually less attractive contracts being proposed.
“Insurance here carries a huge deductible that most people will never meet unless they have a major surgery,” Kasmar continued. “You may as well call it catastrophic coverage. In short, we weren’t going to get a raise factoring in those costs.”
Pease said he hopes contract negotiations improve, but he hasn’t seen a lot of progress thus far.
“At this time, the company doesn’t seem to want to work with us to get us back in the building,” Pease said. “They have replacement workers from other plants. We will stand strong for what we believe is a fair contract.”
Silgan Containers is a recognized leader in the industry. Headquartered in Woodland Hills, California, Silgan was formed in 1987. The local plant was acquired in 1992 from Del Monte Corp.
An assistant to Bob Lewis, chief financial officer at Silgan Holdings, declined to comment on the matter.