December 24, 2015
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Sheboygan, Wisc- 32-day strike at the Kohler plumbing-fixtures company here ended Dec. 17, after United Auto Workers Local 833 ratified a contract that gives lower-paid workers significant raises without ending the two-tier system.
Under the four-year deal, the about 400 Tier B workers, who now average about $12.50 an hour, will get raises averaging $4.70, with a $14.70 minimum. The about 1,600 Tier A workers, who now average about $22.50, will get 50¢ more each year. “It’s a lot better than it was, but I’m sorry the two-tier is still there,” said Antonio Spearman, a Tier B foundry operator, who will get a $3-an-hour raise. Kohler management had threatened that the plant would “no longer be cost-competitive” if all employees got full wages, but 94% of workers voted to strike.
I think they thought that Tier A would fold, would not stand up for the Tier B workers,” Local 833 President Tim Tayloe said. The union benefited from strong picket lines—some days, more than 1,000 strikers marched, carrying signs like “Tier B Lives Matter”—and donations of money, food, and wood for the “burn barrels” from other unions and the community. “There’s a sense of solidarity: ‘We’re family. This is our fight.’” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. Read more