UAW Local vs. Vincent Bach/Conn-Selmer
What Happened in a 40 Month Strike at One of the Largest Instrument Company
This is a story about corporate greed and how it ruined the lives of most of the dedicated workers and their families. Conn-Selmer was always a family oriented company with many 2nd and 3rd generation employees until a financial whiz kid from California bought us out. It all went downhill from there.
On April 1, 2006 UAW Local 364 began a strike against Bach/Con-Selmer, a Division of Steinway Corporation, in Elkhart, Indiana which would last 40 months. It was the longest ongoing strike in the nation at the time.
There were 230 hourly employees at the time the strike began. Two years before there had been 450 hourly employees. It was then that they started producing some of the instruments offshore, in China for instance, where they could make them cheaper. They completely shut down the saxophone line eliminating half of the work force.
The year before the strike our Bach Division made the company $63 million dollars in profits. We alone brought in 37% of all of Steinway's profits but that wasn't enough. The President and CEO wanted to make it so that there would not be a living wage in the company. The initial contract offered by the company in 2006 had a $8.10 decrease in wages, 40% increase in health care premiums and decrease in benefits. The language of the contract was written so that the company would have complete control over the employees and it would be like having no representation from the union. We would have been powerless. It appeared to us that the company wanted to
1) get rid of the union
2) and get rid of the 'old people' as the average employee age was 54 years
old and 75% of us had between 20 and 44 dedicated years of service.
Six weeks into the strike, the company had a job fair and began hiring scab workers. At six and a half months in the company managed to get a court injunction against the strikers disallowing us to have any voice on the strike line. We had to cut the number or strikers on the line by 75%. We had our Constitutional rights taken away from us. The UAW International would do nothing to help us.
We were doomed! We were completely sold out by the International. We had no support from the community of Elkhart. It was like we were in 'no man's land'. A lot of us still kept the fight going. The company contacted strikers to cross the picket line. They broke some of the strikers down and that kept them going but now I believe that they regret it because they are not earning a living wage and the company treats them like dirt.
The 3rd contract proposal by the company said that none of the union members would be guaranteed their jobs back. How can you ratify a contract like that?
On July 30, 2009 UAW Local 364 was officially decertified as a union but we question how valid this action was since there were only 2 board members when the whole board is suppose to have 5 members.
We did everything we could. Nobody did get their jobs back. If it weren't for Pat Meyer, Director of L.A.W.S, and her crew and the National Labor Singer, Anne Feeney, we wouldn't have lasted as long as we did.
A company which produced high quality instruments put 4700 years of experience out on the street and they didn't seem to care. What kind of people could the upper management be to expect a person to work in an unhealthy environment, sucking bad air, fumes and acid day after day for $8 to $10 an hour? The company seems to put no value on life.
We lost the war mainly because of Corporate Greed and an International Union that didn't give a damn about the little people. Our community has been hit hard by unemployment and many families have moved away because of the lack of jobs. We've had a number of past employees pass away in the last few months. My wife passed away in August, 2010. I know it had a lot to do with stress left from the strike. She always supported me. There have been many marriage break-ups and a number of home foreclosures. So, in the end, everyone has lost. If more people don't wake up in this country and start fighting for workers' rights, the country is doomed!
former 24 year member of UAW Local 364