Union members from Accuride operations in Brillion, Wis., and Elkhart, Ind., traveled to Rockford, Ill., in a show of support today for Gunite Corp.’s United Auto Workers members, who are beginning the fourth week of being locked out by management.

Union members from Accuride operations in Brillion, Wis., and Elkhart, Ind., traveled to Rockford, Ill., in a show of solidarity today for Gunite Corp.’s United Auto Workers members, who are beginning the fourth week of being locked out by management.

Gunite, which is owned by Evansville, Ind.-based Accuride, locked out Local 718 on Nov. 18 after contract negotiations broke down. The two sides have not returned to the bargaining table or scheduled any meetings to do so.

Since the lockout started, a rotation of about a dozen union workers have picketed around the clock at the 101-year-old foundry on Peoples Avenue. Thanks to the workers from Indiana and Wisconsin, those ranks swelled to about 100  with workers marching, chanting and occasionally yelling at the four-man Gunite security force that continually videotaped the demonstrations.

Dave Giese, a pattern maker at Accuride’s Brillion Iron Works, was among the visitors.
“I came down because these boys need our help,” Giese said. “We know how it is to deal with Accuride. We had to go through a long, drawn-out process just to get a contract extension from them. They wouldn’t negotiate at all.”

Local 718 President Rick Kardell said the union’s international representative should be sending a formal request this week to return to negotiations.

At issue is contract language that eliminates the union’s ability to bargain over workplace-safety regulations.

“We value our jobs, but not at the expense of our health, safety and livelihoods,” Kardell said. “We figured they would’ve wanted to sit down earlier than this to discuss those issues.”

The company made an offer Nov. 16 that guaranteed 2 percent annual raises, but the union objected to language that it said weakened its input on safety regulations and would open the shop to hire nonunion laborers. The UAW represents about 135 workers at the plant.

“The union has a complete comprehensive proposal from the company and, with that, we have urged the union to take a ratification vote on that offer,” said Eva Schmitz, spokeswoman for Accuride Corp.

“If there is something that the union doesn’t like about the company’s offer, it would be incumbent on them to request a meeting and inform us of the portion of the proposal that they don’t like.”

Kardell sent a certified letter to Schmitz two weeks ago asking the company to return to negotiations. She responded with a letter pointing out that she was not on the company’s bargaining committee and therefore not authorized to act on its behalf.

A week after the lockout began, Gunite hired replacement workers to get the plant back up and running. The foundry makes brake drums and other wheel parts for large trucks.

“Production is taking place in the facility, and all customer orders have been fulfilled on time,” Schmitz said.

Gunite is the oldest manufacturing firm in Rockford, tracing its roots to the Rockford Malleable Iron Works that opened in 1854.

Rockford Register Star Assistant Business Editor Alex Gary contributed to this report. Staff writer Nate Legue may be reached at 815-987-1346 or nlegue@rrstar.com.