Economy
5:54 pm
Mon August 6, 2012

Teamsters’ union workers strike at Grand Rapids Gravel for third week

More than 60 union workers at Grand Rapids Gravel Company are beginning their third week on strike over a proposed wage cut. Now the private company has security to protect replacement workers and equipment.

About a dozen union workers glare at a replacement worker hauling a load of gravel out of the pits they usually work in. One security guard video tapes us talking as the hauler leaves the pits.

Bill Steckling is the one usually driving that truck. He’s worked for the company for 17 years. He says he makes $17.40 an hour.

He says managers at Grand Rapids Gravel want him and his co-workers to take a $6 an hour pay cut.

"We said ‘well we can take $3.26 an hour.’ We thought, well we can live with that. They said ‘no you don’t understand we said $6.’ So we really had no choice. We didn’t want to be here,” Steckling said.

Robert Gardner has worked at Grand Rapids Gravel for 24 years. He says it’s just not fair for the company to ask for that much money.

“Some guys make less than $25,000 they’re already in poverty they’re the breadwinners of their family. This is a seasonal business they’re laid off for 6 months in the winter time,” Gardner said.

Most of the jobs here are seasonal, but fulltime jobs. They have pensions and health care plans.

Craig Salzwedel has been working there for nearly 25 years. He also makes about seventeen-dollars an hour.

“These guys got a lot of years in here, a lot of years. And think that we are disposable because they want to bust down the union – that’s the only thing they want to do. They want to bust the union down at any expense even to the point if it causes this company to go bankrupt. It’s an 87 year-old company and they would actually be willing to bankrupt it to prove their point,” Salzwedel said.

“We made them millions. Mr. Dykema (the business owner) when he first bought the company stood up at his Christmas party and he says ‘I can’t believe how much money there is in redi-mix!’ And I’ll never forget that, never forget that,” Salzwedel said, shaking his head.

The general manager of Grand Rapids Gravel declined an interview. But in a written statement the company says the workers’ compensation package costs “at least 20-percent more” than its key competitors. The statement says a significant portion is due in large part “to costly union pension and health plans.”