Steelworkers picket Florida Rock by Brandy Doyle

04/04/06

LEAD: Unionized cement plant workers picketed Florida Rock yesterday as they negotiate to keep their contract. WMNF's Brandy Doyle has the story.

SOUND: Chant. (10 sec) Members of the Steelworkers Local 9-130 union gathered outside the Port of Tampa on Monday afternoon picketing Florida Rock in advance of a likely strike. Bill Opitz is an electrician at the plant, and the president of the local union.

SOUND: We were owned by LaFarge which has always been union. Then FL Rock bought us..now they just want to wipe the slate clean. They want to make a lot of changes that are taking the rights away from employees. It's very hard for me to stand by and let that happen when for over 60 years we've had brothers who've fought and suffered a lot to get where we are today. FL Rock refuses to recognize that.(42 sec)

The union has been in negotiations with Florida Rock since March of 2005, seeking to have their previous contract renewed. Florida Rock proposes bringing the plant in line with the company's other, non-union plants by cutting benefits like overtime pay and reducing paid vacation days from 11 down to 6. Frank Bragg, the international representative for the United Steelworkers Union, said that unless the company changes course, a strike is expected soon.

SOUND: This is an informational picket. We have got unfair labor practice charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board, including bad faith bargaining, regressive bargaining, and survellaince of our employees. These charges have not been finalized by the board, but we expect that to happen very soon... (35 sec).

David Cheney works as a maintenance mechanic at the plant.

SOUND: We would like to have fair wages and benefits like every working American deserves. (8sec)

Jimmy Teuton has been a maintenance mechanic at the plant for almost 3 years.

SOUND: They don't want to give us contract. They want to take away our holiday pay, pretty much everything in our contract. We're making record profits for them, and they don't want to give nothing for it. We're not asking for much, just what we have already, and they don't want us to keep.(15 sec).

Representatives from Florida Rock did not return WMNF's calls by press time. According to FL Rock website, 2005 was a record year, with revenues topping 1 billion for the first time in company history. Frank Bragg said that the Tampa plant is FL Rock's number one producing and money-making plant. Bill Opitz said that workers deserve to see some benefit from this sucess.

SOUND: As people, as labor, we're a business ourselves. Each year, we want to make more. We want to show a better and better profit. But FL Rock and a lot of other corporations don't see it that way.They think labor is cheap and easy, but it's not. I could see them come down here and work a day. (22 sec)

Workers in the plant grind, mix, and pack cement, exposed constantly to cement dust in the air and temperatures up to 100 degrees. Cement is in high demand in Florida, and according to Bill Opitz, Florida Rock can afford to pay for workers' benefits.

SOUND: My question is, how much money do they have to make to be satisfied?

I'm Brandy Doyle for WMNF.

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