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Workers locked out at plant in North Champaign

On Tuesday morning, September 29, workers arrived to locked gates at the entrance of the Clifford-Jacobs Forging Company in North Champaign. Sheriff’s deputies and private security guards later arrived to enforce the lock out. The workers set up an informational picket, which they are now staffing around the clock.

The Clifford-Jacobs Forging plant is tucked away in an industrial area by the railroad tracks in North Champaign. Located at 2410 N. 5th Street, it is on the other side of I-74, far from the quiet confines of the University of Illinois. You might get a glimpse of it when leaving for Chicago on the Amtrak train. Company execs might think they are out of sight, out of mind, but local labor organizations have already shown up to support the locked out workers, including the local chapter of Jobs With Justice, and members of the GEO. 

Currently, there are about 70 locked out workers from three different unions ― International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers; and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. For over a month, union representatives have met several times with the company, but talks have reached an impasse. The company wanted a four-year wage freeze and reduced benefits.

The Canadian-owned company contracts with Caterpillar, located nearby in Decatur, Illinois. Jeff Baker, human resources manager for Clifford-Jacobs, told the News-Gazette they had to “compete globally.”

I spoke with Ron Stanley, representing the machinists in bargaining. He said that Monday night, September 28th, union members voted to reject a contract proposal and authorized a strike.

While the union had agreed to strike, and notified the company of their intentions, Stanley said they were still willing to negotiate. A strike date had not been set. Workers had shown up Tuesday morning expecting to start their shift. According to Stanley, “We just want a fair contract.”

When I visited with workers outside the plant on Wednesday, they told me the union was making sure they received fair pay for the difficult jobs they do. In the summers, the plant gets exceedingly hot, with temperatures well over 100 degrees. It’s physically demanding and dangerous work. One man I talked to is a machinist, another works a saw. I interviewed one of the workers who said he works full-time, and is paid a decent salary, enough to provide for his wife and four children.

As I left, I noticed the empty parking lot, a visual reminder that without workers the machines come to a halt.

Those who want to offer their support for the locked out workers can sign this online petition.

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