UE News May 4, 2006
Big victory for UE at Stepan-Fieldsboro
Power of the union proved in 14-week lock-out
By Dave Saldana, Commmunications Director, United
Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)
THEY TOOK THE FIGHT RIGHT into the lion's den, and
came out winners. Big winners.
UE Local 155 workers at the Stepan chemical plant in
Fieldsboro, NJ, endured a 14-week lock-out, but showed
grit and solidarity to carry on and win. The lock-out
ended on May 2 with an excellent contract, ratified by
a 33-2 vote, and the workers were back on the job two
days later. The members shared in the victory, showing
unity and dedication, buoyed by the support of the
national union, regions and locals that lent their
moral and financial support.
"We couldn't have picked a better union," said Chief
Steward Ron McCullough.
"They stood by us the whole time, made sure we were
taken care of, and kept us strong in the fight. All of
the guys are really happy right now. We're proud to
call everybody in UE our brothers and sisters. When
people came from all over Wisconsin and Illinois come
out and picket with us in 35-degree weather, and rain,
we knew we were with the right union."
The turning point in the battle came a week earlier,
when six Local 155 members traveled to Stepan's
headquarters in Northfield, IL, to address the
shareholders meeting. While about 30 brothers and
sisters from six UE locals in the Chicago/Milwaukee
area and the Western Region, stood vigil in 35-degree,
sleeting weather, the Stepan workers showed the company
how wasteful their lock-out had become.
Using documents produced by the company at a hearing on
the workers' eligibility for unemployment benefits,
Local 155 was able to prove that management had burned
more than $1.8 million on added expenses for the lock-
out. Stepan CEO F. Quinn Stepan, Jr., appeared
shocked by the amount, saying he was led to believe it
was "only" about a half-million dollars.The raise that
the workers demanded and the company refused to provide
would have cost just $70,000 annually.
"That was the turning point," UE Field Organizer Jim
Ermi said. "The documents we showed to the directors
and shareholders told the whole story. Two days later,
I got a phone call saying they wanted to talk to us
right away." The two sides met Monday, May 1, and had a
tentative agreement before the close of business. "This
is a tremendous victory for Local 155, and for UE
nationally," said UE Gen. President John Hovis. "It
shows that even when it looks like unions are taking it
on the chin everywhere, you can stand up to the boss
and win." "It's also an incredible show of solidarity,"
UE Gen. Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Klipple added. "UE
locals around the country passed the hat and put
together thousands of dollars to make sure that their
union brothers in New Jersey wouldn't lose their homes,
or their cars, or their health coverage in this fight.
It was a real-life example that we're all in this
The documents that the workers presented to the
shareholders showed Stepan spending $130,000 per week
on the lock-out. More than $53,000 was spent just to
clean up chemical leaks and spills that occurred
because highly skilled technicians were walking a
picket line instead of tending to the machines. At
least two chemical leaks threatened the community
surrounding the plant. The last happened on April 17,
involving sulfur dioxide, which contributes to acid
rain and can cause severe reactions in people with
asthma and other respiratory disease. The leak was so
intense that five union picketers required attention
Environmental groups shared workers' struggle
The hazardous nature of the work helped the workers
gain the support of community and environmental groups.
Local 155 joined with the Sierra Club, New Jersey Work
Environment Council, New Jersey Public Interest
Research Group (NJPIRG), and state and local labor
groups, including the Burlington County Central Labor
Council AFL-CIO, in a March 22 press conference to
raise public awareness about scab workers dealing with
highly toxic chemicals in their neighborhood.
"Workers are the first line of defense in case of a
chemical leak or terrorist attack," said Chief Steward
McCullough said at the press conference. "We should be
back on our jobs working to make this plant safe for
our neighbors." In a joint letter to New Jersey Gov.
Jon Corzine (D), the groups demanded that the state
investigate whether the plant is following guidelines
on plant safety and security, and that DEP inspectors
would regularly monitor the plant to ensure it was
being safely run by replacement workers.
Local 155 offers its thanks to these groups, who
generously lent their time, resources and financial
support to help the locked-out workers' cause. "We are
truly amazed at how many people we had never met made
our fight their own," said Steve Cameron, a Stepan
employee and a member of the UE Bargaining Committee.
"Without them on board, things would have been a lot
"Congratulations on your victory," wrote Amy Goldsmith
of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. "It was a
pleasure to stand with you at the press conference
outside the gate several weeks back. We hope that with
your members back in the facility there will be no more
chemical leaks into the environment and community.
United we stood and won!"
Solidarity in Local 155
The lock-out at Tinius Olsen in Horsham, PA, just a
short trip from Stepan Fieldsboro and also represented
by Local 155, is still going on. The difference there
is that because it was unquestionably a lock-out, the
workers there receive unemployment benefits under
Pennsylvania law. In a great display of solidarity,
the workers from Tinius Olsen said "No, thanks" to
Easter/Passover holiday packages from the Local,
instead insisting that the money be spent on the
workers from Stepan, who were denied unemployment
insurance. Additionally, the lock-out solidarity fund
collected more than $8,000 from UE regions, locals, and
individual members, as well as other unions and labor
groups. Now that money can go to help Tinius Olsen
workers as their struggle for justice continues. The
lessons of the Stepan fight will not be lost there.
"You shouldn't have to endure a 14-week lockout to get
a union in this country," said Bob Kingsley, UE
Director of Organization. "A courageous group of
workers triumphed at Stepan based on protest and
perseverance, but their struggle points out the
deepening workers' rights crisis facing all of us."
Kingsley said the Stepan experience will become a new
arrow in the quiver of labor law reform advocates. It
is no coincidence, he noted, that U.S. Rep. Christopher
Smith (R-NJ), the Congressman representing the
Fieldsboro area, is among the latest co-sponsors of the
Employee Free Choice Act, legislation now before
Congress that would strengthen the right to organize
and streamline the process of securing a first
contract. Rep. Smith signed on as a co-sponsor only
after Stepan workers traveled to Washington, D.C., to
meet personally with him about their struggle.