Steelworkers protesting for fair contracts, saying ‘We need to feed our families’

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A dozen people gathered outside the doors of the Borrough Corporation Wednesday morning. They were bundled up with hats, scarves, gloves and carrying large signs. Then one began to chant and the others followed.

Borrough, Borrough you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side.

The steelworkers there were holding an unfair labor practice strike, said union representative Ed Bedocs. Their contract expired on February 1. Six days later, 70 employees walked out of the building and have been protesting since.

“These workers here have been taking cutbacks for the better part of 20 years, two decades,” said Bedocs, who's the GMP Council Executive Officer. “They just can’t take anymore cutbacks. They’re trying to feed their families.”

Bedocs said that he could not go into the specifics about the contract disputes due to the ongoing negotiations. However when they got a look at the last contract offer, they voted on it. The first time no one approved (62-0) and on the second vote, only one person said ‘aye.’

“We’re all fighting for each other,” said Joe Puente who’s been with company for less than 3 years and is a union committee member. “There’s a lot of us that's been here for short periods of time. They’re out here fighting. And people been here for 30+ years out here fighting with us short-time people.”

Wednesday’s warmth and sunshine was a welcomed break for the protesters, they said. The’d been out there since the snowstorm last week, rotating in shifts. Some workers marched in the morning and others at night.

“These guys have been troopers all the way through,” said Bedocs. “You’re talking about 6-degree weather. We got some propane stuff going on in the tent to try to keep them warm. But it's been a tough haul you know.”

But they plan on being out there for as long as needed. Borroughs has released a statement saying that this was the first ever work stoppage at the company and that they’ve been “bargaining with the union in good faith for several weeks and have offered a generous wage and benefit package that is competitive in the marketplace. We are disappointed that the employees have chosen to repeatedly reject that offer and stop working.”

The union said it’s not enough.

“We want a fair contract,” Puente said. “We’re not out here because we don’t want to be here. We’re out here because we want to be here.”

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