Hermits Rock

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The Kohler factory in my hometown in Arkansas is threatening to hire scabs to replace the 220 workers who have been on strike since December. I tend to agree with David Smith, the union’s president, that it’s probably a scare tactic—it’s unlikely there are 200 unemployed skilled steelworkers in Searcy (although the fact that the Whirlpool factory closed last year means there’s probably more underemployed steelworkers in town than any town should be comfortable with)—but as a scare tactic it’s distressing nonetheless. I fear that labor’s cause is too weak, especially in the south, to compel others not to cross a picket line, but it shouldn’t be. I hope there are letters being written every day—to the Daily Citizen, to the state papers, to the television stations—asserting that no one wins when lines are crossed: as scabs sign over their own futures, they lose their moral authority and their own potential to make their lives better by working together. Although hiring scabs is cheaper than hiring men and women, the company loses too, in goodwill and trust and authority: no one should ever trust what management says again if they are allowed to succeed in killing the union this way. Have solidarity with the strikers, Arkansas. The labor movement has made all of our lives better, and it can continue to do so if you support its cause.

(For more on the strike, see ME in December.)

Update (2/16/2007): 11 scabs crossed the picket line Wednesday. Said striker Jeff Whaley to the Daily Citizen, “They wouldn’t have to hire scabs if they would negotiate. The contract sucks.”



The update, which is originally from the Daily Citizen tells the story of Kevin Brewer, a nonunion packer who was asked to reapply before he could return to work. He did, and had to return to reorientation. That action will likely mean he’s lost any seniority he had, and it’s very likely he doesn’t make $13.25 anymore—and may never again at Kohler.

Something else from the update (emphasis added):

Smith [the union president] said he had made “two or three” phone calls to Searcy Mayor Belinda LaForce to see if she could help settle the strike, but she had not returned his calls. LaForce, however, said this was not true.

“A union representative called me when they first started striking, and I called him back and talked to him,” LaForce said. “He was inviting me to come talk to them and I said;;p;[ I would. He never called me back.”

Normally union representatives would call the Chamber of Commerce if they want someone to arbitrate, LaForce said.

Without stepping into the “he said,” “she said,” what’s up with LaForce’s assertion that the Chamber of Commerce should arbitrate? Is the Searcy Chamber independent from business interests in ways unlike every other Chamber in the US? If not, then going to the Chamber isn’t arbitration—it’s suicide. I’d be happy to be shown in error here, but it sure sounds like LaForce is telling the union she’s washed her hands of its cause. (Which of course may be reason for the “he said,” “she said.”)