I would have liked to have been working this time last year. Unfortunately, I was standing with my fellow union members and those sympathetic to our cause on the picket line after Imerys, a French foreign national corporation locked us out from our jobs .
Imerys locked us out after we rejected multiple contract offers that eliminated or greatly reduced our health and retirement benefits. They also wanted to eliminate our seniority rights, allow them to replace us with non-union temporary employees and reduce safety at our Talc Plant in Three Forks.
The decision to reject the company’s offers was not easy. We knew that it could potentially mean months without a paycheck or health care. We knew that it would mean long days on the picket line with Montana’s winter quickly approaching. But ultimately, we knew that we could not let an international corporation, that was reaping huge benefits and had just received a huge federal tax break, treat employees that way. We chose to man the picket line 24/7, to let the company know we would stand and fight for our jobs.
As soon as the lockout started, support began rolling in. Our union brothers and sisters joined us on the line when they could. They even offered to put us on their out-of-work lists so we could collect unemployment and might have to opportunity to work while we were locked out. We saw non-union members come out and join us because they knew our fight was their fight. We weren’t just taking a stand for ourselves, we were speaking out on behalf of every worker in this country.
We knew that the results would only be favorable if we remained united. Management would happily exploit any perceived crack in our foundation. So, each day we returned to the picket line as one.
Sen. Jon Tester who was up for re-election and Kathleen Williams, candidate for Montana's U.S. House seat, would step away from the campaign trail to join us on the line. They knew that working people are what drive this country and decided to stand in solidarity with us.
Sen. Steve Daines, who was not up for re-election then, and Rep. Greg Gianforte, Williams incumbent opponent, did not join us. When asked to comment on the situation, they provided hollow support. They could give all the newspaper quotes they wanted, but failing to join us on the line showed where their true loyalties lie.
The 100 days on the picket line reaffirmed my faith in unions and reminded me how closely politics and organized workforces are intertwined. While this victory would not have been possible without a strong union, that is only half the battle. We need to elect officials who will ensure our right to organize by crafting and sponsoring legislation that does exactly that.
H.R. 2474, the “Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act”, which will level the playing field for workers who want to organize without being harassed by their employer, has been introduced in the House. Tester has signed on to sponsor it in the Senate while Gianforte and Daines who didn’t show up to support us on the picket line and basically refuse to meet with workers, have not been heard from.
You can mark me as “surprised” that Gianforte and Daines put corporate interests over workers and economic fairness. I believe Montana’s best interests lie with representatives who put workers first.