Shutdown USW and UAW Locals Look to Save Automotive Supply Jobs in Midwest Foreign Owner Locks Out Workers; Another Looming?

Contact: USW Local 524-1 Aaron Collins: 419-203-2329
              UAW Local 1268 Brandon Campbell: 815-544-2111

(Van Wert, OH) -- United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1-524 members Aaron Collins and Natasha Ringwald will travel from Van Wert, Ohio, Saturday, December 6 to meet with members of the United Autoworkers (UAW) Local 1268 in Belvidere, Ill. to examine the uncertain future that lies ahead at their respective plants as the domestic automotive industry confronts corporate restructuring and downsizing. The USW members work at the Kongsberg Automotive facility in Van Wert and produce console shifters used in the assembly of the Dodge Caliber at the Chrysler assembly plant in Belvidere.  

Norway-based Kongsberg Automotive bought the former Teleflex facility in Van Wert Ohio last year, and five months later locked out all 327 workers after demanding a pension plan freeze and 40% wage cuts. The workers believe that Kongsberg is deliberately shutting down many facilities in North America, leaving workers that once supplied the Big Three out in the cold. 

“We want to continue to be the Belvidere supplier,” says Aaron Collins, USW Local 1-524 president. “But we can’t do that if we’re locked out. We wonder if there will be any jobs left in Van Wert considering Kongsberg’s cut-and-run reputation.” With 10.5% of its residents out of work, Van Wert County has the third highest unemployment rate in all of Ohio. Locked-out Steelworkers wonder how they’ll get through the holidays as unemployment benefits run out and jobs are scarce.  

“Times are tough for everyone in the country, but it doesn’t have to be that way in Van Wert,” says Natasha Ringwald, a single mother employed at the Kongsberg facility. “We want to be in our plant working, producing parts for Chrysler, Ford and GM. Instead we’re locked out. I’m not sure Santa is going to able to bring my son much this year.”      

“We are proud of these members for their courage in standing up to this ruthless employer and its unfair demands, and will do all we can to see that their fight is successful,” said USW District 1 Director Dave McCall. “We cannot allow employers such as Kongsberg to use a sour economy as an excuse to take advantage of USW members”

UAW Local 1268 members in Belvidere, Ill. also have concerns about their futures with Chrysler. “Our members know very well the difference between good-quality equipment made by skilled, dedicated long-term union workers and the often-unsafe equipment made by inexperienced replacements,” says Brandon Campbell, UAW Local 1268 president.  “Furthermore, what is happening to our sisters and brothers at Kongsberg could not happen, if our trade policies did not make it so easy for unscrupulous companies to ship jobs across the border. All manufacturing jobs in our country are in jeopardy because of the bad economy, bad companies, and bad trade policies.”

As Ford, Chrysler and General Motors wait to see if they will be awarded $25 billion in federal aid to help protect them from potential bankruptcy or total collapse; 4.5 million workers connected to the automotive industry hold their breaths. “This isn’t a crises for just the Big Three, says Director McCall. “It’s a crisis for all workers in the automotive industry.” In addition to active workers there are over 780,000 Big Three retirees and dependents that rely on the viability of the auto industry to survive.   

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