Standing for their rights

A security guard sat across the street in a shopping-center parking lot taking pictures of the placard-waving union members. A sheriff’s deputy parked his car, blue lights flashing, to talk with the rally organizer about permits. One worker walked around with an American flag that had been inside the McQuay manufacturing plant earlier in the day.

“They told me I had to take it out because they already had a flag, and one was enough,” the worker said, pointing to the flagpole in front of the Verona facility where the officially recognized Old Glory was presiding over the scene of approximately 75 UE Local 123 workers raising issue with the Osaka, Japan,-based Daikin, which bought McQuay three years ago and is engaged at the present time in a rough-and-tumble negotiation with local employees over the renewal of their labor contract.

“We’re having a rally to send the message to the Japanese that we want a fair contract,” said George Waksmunski, the union represenative for UE 123, noting that employees at McQuay, 80 percent of whom are represented by the union, are currently working without a contract.

Waksmunski said the union will be meeting with the National Labor Relations Board next week on charges brought by UE 123 of bad-faith bargaining by the company. The sticking point in the negotiations is health insurance. The company had agreed in 2006 to a cap on increases in health-insurance costs that it now wants to lift.

“Our health-care costs would go up significantly,” said Waksmunski, alluding to another point in the negotiations that will basically freeze wages for the first year of the pending three-year deal.

“The company is doing well. They’ve invested millions of dollars here. They have a brand-new product line that they’ve installed here. And there’s money in the stimulus package for heating and air conditioning that they’re going to be able to pull in. So they’re doing well, and they’re here picking our pockets. That’s our theme this year. Don’t pick our pockets,” Waksmunski said.

The shenanigans with the security paparazzi and the sheriff’s deputy and the flag were just an unexpected bonus for me as an observer. As was the steady stream of people leaving the first shift of work around 3:30 p.m., parking in the shopping-center lot across the busy Va. 612 and walking back to grab a placard and exercise their constitutional right to assembly.

“The company said employees wouldn’t be allowed to park in the company parking lot and walk out here to protest,” Waksmunski explained.


– Story by Chris Graham

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