Working In These Times
After Long Wait and Protests, Laid-Off Quad City Workers Reach Settlement
Quad City Die Casting workers fought hard last summer to try to keep their plant – seemingly still profitable – open in the face of creditor Wells Fargo’s insistence on liquidating.
The Moline, Ill., factory near the Mississippi River and the Illinois-Iowa border closed last September, despite a spirited campaign by 65 union workers affiliated with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1174.
But the workers got a partial victory this week, with the announcement of a settlement related to the National Labor Relations Board charges the union filed, which demanded accrued vacation pay and medical payments due the workers.
A management company that reported to Wells Fargo had essentially taken over the company last summer in a proceeding similar to bankruptcy. The UE says a buyer who would have kept the plant open could have been found, but the bank was instead set on selling off its assets to quickly collect the money it was owed.
A Wells Fargo spokesperson at the time said the bank did not control decisions regarding day-to-day management of the company; the union disputes this. (Read more here.)
Even before the plant closed, workers’ health insurance was retroactively canceled, leaving some saddled with thousands in debt. The recent settlement means assets from the liquidated company will be used to pay medical providers about 50 cents on the dollar, a total of about $45,000, enough to free workers from potential debt.
The workers will also collect a total of about $95,000 in accrued vacation pay – up to several thousand dollars each – in the coming weeks or months.
Previously the union had demanded contractually obligated raises and holiday pay that had been denied. The workers ended up getting those funds before the plant closed.
“We didn’t get what we really wanted, which was to keep the plant open,” said UE organizer Leah Fried. “But the workers told me they feel happy to have the money and finally have some closure to this chapter so they can move on.”
The plant was originally slated to close in July 2009, but employees worked overtime for two more months to finish orders that piled up from loyal customers around the announcement of the plants’ closing. Yet workers got in line behind Wells Fargo to collect from the shuttered company.
“This is what’s left over after Wells Fargo got theirs,” Fried said. “The bank remains totally unrepentant, totally callous to the needs of the Quad City Die Casting workers and the entire community.”
Even after the plant closed, workers had continued to picket outside Wells Fargo. Though these actions probably had no effect on legal proceedings, workers and organizers feel they were worthwhile efforts.
“It educated the community about what kind of corporate citizen Wells Fargo is, and it kept the workers united and focused on claiming what was theirs,” Fried said. Worker Deb Johann, a leader of the struggle, said most employees have not been able to find other jobs. “You send in your resume to all these places but you never hear back,” she said.
After 32 years at Quad City Die Casting, she was hoping to soon retire. Now she feels like she has to start over in her 50s. She says most factory employers expect workers on the job 12 hours a day, six days a week, something she doesn’t think is healthy at her age.
“The settlement is great, but it sucks to lose your job,” she said. “It’s tough out there.”