January 2012, Week 4


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Tue, 24 Jan 2012 23:33:55 -0500
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More Lockouts as Companies Battle Unions

By Steven Greenhouse

The New York Times
January 23, 2012 (posted January 22)


America's unionized workers, buffeted by layoffs and
stagnating wages, face another phenomenon that is
increasingly throwing them on the defensive: lockouts.

From the Cooper Tire factory in Findlay, Ohio, to a country
club in Southern California and sugar beet processing plants
in North Dakota, employers are turning to lockouts to press
their unionized workers to grant concessions after contract
negotiations deadlock. Even the New York City Opera locked
out its orchestra and singers for more than a week before
settling the dispute last Wednesday.

Many Americans know about the highly publicized lockouts in
professional sports - like last year's 130-day lockout by
the National Football League and the 161-day lockout by the
National Basketball Association - but lockouts, once a
rarity, have been used in less visible industries as well.

"This is a sign of increased employer militancy," said Gary
Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark
University. "Lockouts were once so rare they were almost
unheard of. Now, not only are employers increasingly on the
offensive and trying to call the shots in bargaining, but
they're backing that up with action - in the form of

The number of strikes has declined to just one-sixth the
annual level of two decades ago. That is largely because
labor unions' ranks have declined and because many workers
worry that if they strike they will lose pay and might also
lose their jobs to permanent replacement workers.

Lockouts, on the other hand, have grown to represent a
record percentage of the nation's work stoppages, according
to Bloomberg BNA, a Bloomberg subsidiary that provides
information to lawyers and labor relations experts. Last
year, at least 17 employers imposed lockouts, telling their
workers not to show up until they were willing to accept
management's contract offer.

Perhaps nowhere is the battle more pitched than at American
Crystal Sugar, the nation's largest sugar beet processor.

Last summer, contract negotiations bogged down, with the
company insisting that its workers agree to higher payments
for health coverage, more outsourcing and many other
concessions. Shortly after the 1,300 unionized workers -
spread among five plants in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa
- voted overwhelmingly to reject those demands, the company
locked them out and hired replacement workers.

That was on Aug. 1, more than five months ago, and since
then the workers and their families have been scrounging to
make ends meet. Some face foreclosure and utility
disconnection notices.

American Crystal has hired more than 900 replacement workers
to keep its plants running. Federal law allows employers to
hire such workers during a lockout, although they cannot
permanently replace regular employees. Employers can pay the
replacements lower wages, although as is the case with
American Crystal, the companies sometimes need to offer
higher wages and help pay for housing to attract

With many private-sector labor unions growing smaller and
weaker, and with public-sector unions under attack in
numerous states, some employers think the time is ideal to
use lockouts, a forceful approach they were once reluctant
to use.

Many employers, though, say they have little choice.

Robert Batterman, a labor lawyer who represents employers,
said whether it was the N.F.L. or Sotheby's, which locked
out 43 art handlers in Manhattan last July, "the pendulum
has swung too far toward the employees, and the employers
are looking in these tight economic times to get givebacks."

"Employers," he continued, "are using lockouts because
unions are reluctant to do what the employers consider
reasonable in terms of compromising. Employers are looking
to reset their collective bargaining relations."

After being out of work since Aug. 1, Paul Woinarowicz, a
warehouse foreman employed at American Crystal Sugar for 34
years, sees another rationale for lockouts.

"It's just another way of trying to break the union," said
Mr. Woinarowicz, a member of the bakery and confectionery
workers union. "People here in the Red River Valley are
really mad at American Crystal. It was just like a knife
stuck in your heart."

With American Crystal earning record profits before the
lockout, the workers strongly opposed its push for
concessions. Mr. Woinarowicz noted that the company's most
recent quarterly report showed a sharp decline in production
and profits - a development the workers said showed the
lockout was taking a toll. American Crystal said the drop
was due to a smaller sugar beet crop and higher operating

American Crystal accuses union negotiators of being
inflexible and denies that it is seeking to break the union.
For many employers, lockouts have proved highly successful.
Last July 17, Armstrong World Industries locked out 260
workers at its ceiling tile plant in Marietta, Pa., after
they rejected the company's offer as stingy on pensions and
health coverage.

After being locked out for five months, the workers accepted
a contract only slightly different from the one they had
originally voted down. Union officials said the workers knew
Armstrong had the upper hand.

There have been several recent lockouts at hospitals, often
after nurses engaged in a one-day walkout. To hire
replacement nurses from a staffing company, hospitals often
have to commit to hiring them for at least a week, so a one-
day nurses' strike is often followed by a four-day lockout.
But at some health care facilities, like West River nursing
home in Milford, Conn., where management locked out 100
workers on Dec. 13, companies see lockouts as a way to wrest
concessions and set an example for workers at their other

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football
League Players Association, said the football, hockey and
basketball leagues ordered lockouts in recent years for a
clear reason: to gain leverage in negotiations.

"The lockout is designed to put you at a distinct
disadvantage," he said, saying it places huge pressures on
players who typically have short professional careers. The
National Hockey League's lockout of 2004-5 canceled an
entire season.

Mr. Smith said, "A lot of players have careers of two or
three years, and you might get a player who asks, `At what
point is this fight worth one-third of my career?' "

For Jeannie Madsen, a lab technician at American Crystal,
the lockout has meant strains for her and her fiancé, also a
worker there. With her former husband also locked out and
suspending child support payments, she said she could not
afford new school clothes and shoes for her children and had
to stop paying her daughter's orthodontist bills. She said
Wells Fargo would soon foreclose on her home.

"What's most upsetting is that it's affecting the lives of
many innocent children," she said.

The sides are holding occasional negotiations but remain

Ms. Madsen said the company was continually putting up
barriers to a settlement, essentially pressing the workers
to surrender. Company officials did not return phone
messages, but Brian Ingulsrud, the company's vice president
for administration, wrote in an editorial for a Fargo
newspaper that "American Crystal Sugar remains committed to
good-faith negotiations."


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