Sunday, August 28, 2011

Striking Musical Instrument Makers "In It For the Long Haul"

By Martha Grevatt
Published Aug 25, 2011 9:40 PM

Conn-Selmer bosses are at it again, but once again workers are fighting back.

When United Auto Workers Local 2359, representing workers who make brass horns in Eastlake, Ohio, sat down at the negotiating table this year they were face to face with the company’s lead negotiator, attorney Larry Hall. “I decertified the union in Elkhart,” Hall immediately boasted.

In 2006, the parent company of Vincent Bach, a brass instrument manufacturer, demanded huge pay and benefit concessions from its workers in Elkhart, Ind. When on April 1 the contract expired, 230 members of UAW Local 364 walked out. Within a month the company was running production with permanent replacements, i.e., permanent scabs.

Repeatedly, the workers rejected the company’s demands, which included unlimited mandatory overtime. For over three years, the workers walked the picket lines. The strike ended in August, 2009, when the National Labor Relations Board upheld a vote in which scabs were allowed to cast ballots, to decertify the union.

Hall flat out told Local 2359 that “we have the money to pay you, but we don’t want to.” The anti-union company wants to impose new discipline procedures that make it easy to fire workers, and they also want the right to unilaterally abolish classifications and force workers into a lower pay rate. They want to force all workers, whose pay rates vary widely, down to “book rate” and to take cuts as big as $22 an hour.

These are highly skilled workers. From high school bands to the world’s greatest orchestras, Conn-Selmer horns are the instrument of choice. Trumpets, trombones and other instruments are handcrafted from beginning to end.

Since July 26, Local 2359 members have been on strike. Already the American Federation of Musicians has called a boycott of Conn-Selmer and symphony musicians in Baltimore, Seattle, Cleveland, Philadelphia, London and Detroit have pledged to support the boycott and avoid using Conn-Selmer instruments in upcoming performances.

Musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra remember their own six-month strike that ended this past April. The brass section of the nearby Cleveland Orchestra recently came to the picket line to perform a concert for the strikers.

“The rich get richer and the hell with the poor,” a member of the union negotiating committee told this writer. “We’re in it for the long haul.”

Support messages can be posted to the “supportlocal2359” Facebook page.

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