By Tim Tayloe, President of United Auto Workers Local 833, UAW Local 833
The 2,100 members of UAW Local 833 are in a struggle to preserve our community’s middle class. With spouses, children and retirees, our numbers are at least three times that or more. We are your friends, neighbors, customers, fellow citizens and taxpayers. Our kids go to school with your kids. Our families need the same things as yours.
Since 1934, the working folks of UAW 833 have fought for and won wages, benefits and working conditions that have elevated the entire community. We took our hits in tough times, just like you, and, like all fair-minded people, we expect to share in times of corporate prosperity. But that’s not happening. Not for us. And not for you.
In 2010, Kohler laid off 600 of our members and threatened to outsource or offshore more jobs. We reluctantly accepted a five-year contract that simultaneously froze our wages and increased out-of-pocket health care costs.
Worse, we got a two-tier wage system that undercuts new hires. At 65% of regular pay, they earn as little as $11.50 an hour with few or no benefits. Many of them are temporary and don’t know from one day to the next what they’ll be doing or if they’ll be working.
They are stuck forever behind the rest of us, no matter the skills they bring or how long they work. With a 94% strike vote and 99% of our members still out, we are holding strong for incremental raises that will get our newer folks closer to wage parity in five years.
This is the defining issue of our strike.
We are taking a moral and necessary stand for equal pay for equal work. Our nation has fought battles like this before and continues to. Discrimination against women and minorities, for example, is illegal, yet their wages still lag. Now, under wage schemes such as Kohler’s that are becoming epidemic in the United States, we find a new group of unequal citizens: our youngest workers.
What does the future hold in store for them? What does it mean for us all? If past is prologue, it doesn’t look good.
Wisconsin has the fastest shrinking middle class in the nation. Low-wage jobs spiked sharply in the last 15 years, especially since 2010. Median household income fell in a stunning two-thirds of Wisconsin counties, including Sheboygan (-9.1%) and neighboring Manitowoc (-10.1%). Nationally, it’s not much better.
Meanwhile, the ever-expanding income and wealth gap between the very rich and the rest of us is the worst it’s been since The Great Depression. The Kohlers are among those fortunate few. Their wealth nearly doubled in just 12 months, 2012-2013, and, as of Dec. 2, they have $7.7 billion in their pockets.
What kind of employer threatens the livelihood of working families while making money hand over fist? What kind of company demands a permanent underclass? What kind of corporate citizen would decimate the community whose labor made its billions because, it says, it wants to “compete” with the slave wages of the Third World?
The sad fact is that, for much of America’s wealthiest and the toadies who serve them, dividing the middle class and driving down our standard of living has become routine. They pay big bucks to outsider consultants who care not a whit for the communities they hurt while pushing talking points out of their playbook to scare the hell out of us. We’re not falling for that again.
We’re feeling the squeeze, and we know the risks, and we know you do, too. We are inextricably linked, you and us. Please support our cause. Call Kohler. Spread the word. Drop off donations at our Emil Mazey Hall. Help us restore fundamental fairness and shared prosperity to the community.
If not now, when? If not us, who?