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The Daily Citizen Finds Its Voice

“You’ve got to give a little to get a little,” began Saturday’s editorial in the Daily Citizen, the paper’s first editorial about the strike at the Kohler plant in Searcy, Arkansas. Coming on the heels of a week of accusations of mischief and violence as well as arrests that made news statewide (KAIT in Jonesboro; KATV in Little Rock) and of Warren Watkins’ follow-up story about the arrests, which revealed there had probably been more than a little goading by management, the editorial argued, as much out of exasperation as anything, that nothing good was happening—not on the picket line and not off it:

Recently, it took four consecutive articles being published on the strike by this newspaper before the company uttered a single word. Even then, it was a brief, prepared statement that was void of substance.

We have to wonder if Kohler brings the same steadfast silence to the negotiating table.

Most of us White Countians come from blue-collar, patriotic, Christian backgrounds. We were raised with the mindset that the best way to get a job and to keep it is to simply do what the boss says, within reason of course.

Likewise, corporations bear the burden of treating employees with respect and incorporating policies and practices that are fair to their workers.

Union members have said the reason for the strike is because Kohler negotiated with the union in bad faith. Without the benefit of sitting in during negotiations, we have no way to verify that complaint, nor can we dispute it.

Although the editorial went on to claim that both Kohler and the union “have their heels—and their heads—buried in the sand,” it read the situation as well as it could. The company was threatening to bust the union and was refusing to negotiate; the strikers were frustrated, worried, and—apparently—completely unaware that anything was happening behind the scenes.

So too was TDC ignorant of what was happening, however, since according to Warren Watkins’ story Tuesday, on Friday Kohler and the United Auto Workers settled the union’s complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. The settlement, while not as good as a contract, represents both an assurance that the union will continue to exist and that Kohler will agree to abide by a contract. Watkins writes,

One paragraph of the notice addressed specific issues in the Searcy plant: “We will not refuse to meet and discuss in good faith with the union any proposed changes in wages, hours and working conditions before putting such changes into effect,” the notice said. “We have, upon the union’s request, rescinded all changes we made to the terms and conditions of employment without bargaining with the union, including the disabling and removal of eight surveillance cameras installed in work areas of the Searcy facility.”

Most disappointing is that the local’s president was kept in the dark about it. The UAW‘s hierarchy, represented by its international and regional organizers, signed the settlement. (My wariness may just be my democratic roots talking.) Nevertheless, the settlement sounds like a good floor on which to reset the legs on the negotiating table. With diligence, perhaps now a contract can be reached and the Kohler workers can return to work, in solidarity, a strong contract in hand.

I began this post Monday as ignorant of the settlement—though I had checked the NLRB‘s website this weekend for any news—as the local and TDC. I wanted to praise the newspaper for finally putting out a strong editorial and for having generally published more about the strike in the last week than it had in the previous two months. The press facilitates change not necessarily by taking sides—though it shouldn’t be shy to do so if sides are the right thing to take—but by insisting that publicity, especially publicity in the face of factions’ desires for secrecy, matters. It wasn’t long ago that I criticized the paper’s lack of coverage of the strike, but the Daily Citizen’s, and especially Warren Watkins’ work since has been of good service.

 

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Future of the Union reprints one of TDC‘s stories that has fallen behind TDC‘s (ridiculous) paywall: “Kohler Charges Settled, Yet Strike Continues,” by Warren Watkins.