A lingering strike is taking its toll on 85 Davis Wire mill employees in Kent and their families who joined labor and religious leaders and elected officials to voice their dismay with the impasse at an emotional community rally Tuesday.
Union workers went on strike May 21, claiming poor working conditions and inadequate compensation. Recent negotiations have gone nowhere, union leaders said, and workers are prepared for a long fight.
Earlier Tuesday, striking workers converged at the King County Courthouse in Seattle, where 60 employees officially filed individual lawsuits, alleging the company has created “sweatshop-like” conditions by working employees off the clock and denying them rest and meal breaks in an unsafe environment. They also claim the company is failing to pay them statutorily required overtime wages.
“What we are asking for is very modest in our contract,” said Robert Bruner, a 15-year Davis Wire employee who is among the original plaintiffs in the suit. “It’s terribly frustrating. They are still refusing to budge on anything. They still don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. …
“They don’t seem to care, as much as they should, for the workforce,” Bruner added. “The economy, the way that it is right now, they know there’s no jobs out there. Their standard answer is, ‘If you don’t want it, there’s the door.’ “
Harry Stang, outside labor counsel for Davis Wire, said the company is prepared to take on the workers’ latest actions.
“It’s all propaganda. It’s false and I can assure you the charges of the lawsuit will be vigorously defended,” he said.
Bruner, 48, claims the company has pushed for greater productivity at the expense of working conditions and job safety. He says the Kent facility’s machines are old and worn out, and employees are working long and exhaustive shifts.
In his years working as a galvanizer, Bruner has been repeatedly burned on his forearms. Tired of lead dust and smoke exposure, he went into fabrics. While on the job, he has torn a pectoral muscle, thrown out his shoulder, busted two fingers and nearly lost his right eye.
Bruner understands it’s a difficult, hazardous job, but the company should be willing to make the factory safer, and put employees ahead of profits.
“It shouldn’t have to be this way,” he said. “I’m hoping something gets done.”
Bruner and striking workers and their families are “getting by” with the help of a union emergency fund.
State Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, 33rd Legislative District, was among the dignitaries who spoke at the rally. She claims Davis Wire workers are “victimized” by poor working conditions and inadequate health care.
Dave Freiboth, executive secretary of the M.L. King County Labor Council and the son of a machinist, says striking workers are tired of the company’s antics.
“We have a lot of struggles in labor. They’re out to get us. They want to destroy the middle class, destroy what we got in terms of our economic viability,” he said. “They don’t get away with this. They don’t get to abuse you without answering for it.”
The Teamsters’ original complaint, which was filed in King County Superior Court on April 30, describes sweatshop-like conditions, in which employees were pressured to work 12-hour shifts without a break and eat lunch at their work stations while operating dangerous machinery.
Davis Wire is one of four manufacturers in the Heico Wire Group. Over the last few years, four workers have been killed in industrial accidents at Heico facilities across the country, Teamsters said.
At the Kent facility, workers have suffered serious injuries, including wire punctures, broken bones and mangled fingers, according to Teamsters.
Stang said the union has been obstructive with concerns about safety issues.
“There’s been no cooperation in safety improvements,” he said.
The 85 workers at the Kent facility have been without a contract since Dec. 1.
Stang would not elaborate on the strike’s details, nor expand on talks. Both sides held talks July 10 and 13, but no new negotiations have been scheduled, Stang said.
“We don’t negotiate through the media,” Stang said. “Negotiations will be done at the table. … Nothing has changed. They are more interested in propaganda than serious negotiations.
“The company is trying to keep the Kent (plant) competitive, but the union doesn’t want to cooperate.”
Davis Wire, which also operates plants in Irwindale, Calif., and Pueblo, Colo., is one of the largest wire manufacturers in the Western States. Products are used in a wide variety of fields, including agriculture, construction, transportation, communications and industrial applications. The foundations of its business are galvanized and reinforcement wire.