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Bergstrom Strike

New owners of Bergstrom, maker of air conditioning and heavy trucking systems, provoke strike of 179 workers at Byron, Illinois
Striking Bergstrom workers in Byron are determined to rebuff the vicious union-busting assault of Bergstrom Inc., and take the offensive. "The company's biggest fear is that the workers in their Rockford plant will also want a UAW contract," said Jeff Thorp, president of UAW Local 1720, which represents one hundred seventy-nine former Kysor-Westran workers who have been on strike since Jan. 28. Thorp said the union had patiently extended its old contract for a week, until after Bergstrom had closed the deal acquiring the plant on Dec. 4. The members of Local 1720 were rewarded for their patience and consideration as follows:

"I personally don't like strikes, but Bergstrom pushed us out the door," said Thorp. "This is just a move to bust our union -- Bergstrom handed us 26 pages that detail a completely different contract from our old one, and said it must be their way or the highway." Thorp said that Bergstrom is refusing to recognize seniority for job postings or job security, and is demanding a wage cut. He also said the Rockford plant is mainly staffed by temporary workers, and that Bergstrom wants to use temporaries in the Byron plant for 180 days. "We have no objection to the hiring of temporary summer help, but 180 days is ridiculous," added Thorp.

Thorp also said the strike against the manufacturer of air conditioning and heavy trucking systems has been effective, and that the union has learned that the temporary workers who were transferred to the Byron plant from Rockford "are tired of working twelve to fourteen hour shifts."

As he was picketing the Bergstrom plant in Rockford, Brian Booker, who hired into the former Kysor-Westran plant 13 years ago, expressed the determination of the Bergstrom strikers:

"A lot of us feel we have a lot of years in there -- a lot of sweat and blood. We earned what we have; we would like to keep what we have, and would like some job security. We feel they are trying to break the union and have management's rights be all in their favor, with none for the workers. I wouldn't want to be there a year from now and they come up with a guy a little bit younger than me and say, 'he's a little bit faster than you and will work for half your pay. It's been nice knowing you.' And, they send me down the road and this guy gets my job."

Thorp added that the Bergstrom strikers appreciate the solidarity of the Rockford-area labor movement in their struggle. "We could especially use help in picketing the Rockford plant, and any financial support would certainly be welcome," added Thorp, who concluded: "I have been a union man for most of my life, and I intend to see that our plant remains a union plant. We're going to stay out here until the company gives us what we want. We have been a union plant for thirty years, and all of a sudden, Bergstrom decides that we don't need a union. We're not going to let them drive our union out of the plant. They're worried about the Rockford plant? Unionize them. We'll help them out. Everybody will be the same."

Dawn Hutchison, a Local 1720 steward, added, "This is not an economic strike; we are fighting for our lives, here."


PICTURE CAPTION:
These members of UAW Local 1720 were picketing at the Bergstrom plant in Byron. LtoR: Jeff Hall, 9 years; Jeff Thorp, 33 years, president of Local 1720; Dawn Hutchison, 11 years, union steward; Gerald Seats, 8 * years; Michelle Wrasse, 2 years; Tom Gertmann, 1 year; Martha Gertmann, 7 years, Dave Hutchison, 9 * years.
 
 

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