A brief history....a first-hand account, 25 years in the writing.....by Ron Kephart, as previously posted in three parts at Working Class Heroes!
It involved four primary locations, but I will tell the tale of Lock Haven, PA. UPIU Local 1787. That’s right, 1787, the year of our Constitution – “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect UNION….” That one. In the summer of 1986, the members of Local 1787 worked peacefully, almost blissfully, drawing good pay weekly, providing a standard of living that set the bar for the area. Lock Haven, PA is in Clinton County, in the very middle of the state – central PA at its finest – some would say, more deer than people. The mill, which had been there in some form as one or two separate papermills for over 100 years, was then owned by Hammermill Paper Co. This would end in the summer of 1986, and bring with it an unforeseen threat to our way of life. One that nobody could prepare for. One that would change most of us forever!
A prolonged Wall St battle, corporations vying, stock prices soaring; at one point, famed tycoon Carl Icahn proposed to be our white-knight, and Hammermill was a rich target. When the dust settled in the late summer of 1986, International Paper had won. In the process they would become the largest paper company in the world. Hammermill also had vast land and timber holdings and IP would also become the nation’s largest “private” landowner. Within the former Hammermill facilities, IP promised that they would NOT mess with or alter the operating structures for 5 years. Locally, in November of 1986, at an IP-owned finishing plant (where paper is processed, but not made), a contract expired. The UPIU folks represented there faced a dire agenda and voted to strike. On the first day, the company gave them an opportunity to return to work the next day, or face “replacement”. They ran back to work, tails tucked between their legs. In Lock Haven, we looked at that and said, “We’ll never fold like that. Besides, IP has promised that they aren’t going to mess with us for at least 5 years.” And we knew a secret….it takes years to learn to do what we did!
In February ’87, in Mobile Alabama, IP “locked-out” nearly 1200 employees over a disputed contract. Management people from around the country were shipped to Mobile to spend 3 weeks or so at a stint to keep that facility running. The Lock Haven supervisors who returned home gloating over checks the size of 5 or 6 of ours were not met with glee and warmth.
Later that spring, the contract expired at Jay,ME, another long-time IP plant that made kraft papers. This plant also employed around 1200 people and had the facilities to manufacture pulp from logs, then paper from pulp – it was a complete paper mill. Jay, ME had been one of the earliest locations of IP and had not had a strike since 1922. They enjoyed only one shutdown holiday per year, but the company’s concessionary demands included giving up even that 1 shutdown day. In the future, it would be necessary to run the plant 365 days per year! IP moved in a southern contractor called BE&K who came with all of the skilled people necessary to maintain production in that complex mill. They set up approximately 100 mobile homes inside the fence, just far enough apart to allow the doors to open, and there they housed their skilled SCABS. At a Memorial Day Rally, UPIU President Wayne Glenn attended a rally, led a march to the mill gates and ended up getting arrested and charged with inciting to riot.
United Paperworkers International Union
On June 20, contract deadline came in Lock Haven. We had seen the same concessionary agenda, demanding that we give up all 10 paid holidays, that we give up all overtime pay other than what the law required, that we give the company the right to “contract out” ANY production, maintenance, finishing, warehousing or shipping duties that they deemed fit. We were the first former Hammermill facility to face the dreaded “IP agenda”. Our vote was in excess of 90% to reject. At 3pm on the 20th we walked out! For 3 weeks, the company vowed to “keep production going” and they did so by working office, supervisory, and management personnel 12 hours per day, 7 days per week. These folks were our friends, neighbors, and relatives. Tensions flared, “stuff” happened, and the community-at-large was ill at ease for the whole time. In early July, the company advertised and began hiring “Permanent Replacement Workers”. What a disgusting and nastily euphemistic way to say “SCAB”!
On the first day that applications would be accepted, the first “applicant” arrived on foot at about 6:35am. By 7:00 the city police had been summoned, and by 7:20am, the county sheriff was called. At 7:30am the first of the PA State Police arrived. Their presence persisted in some fashion for the next 16 months! In the beginning, all of the scabs worked 12 hour shifts, so the shift changes took place on the 7′s, making it relatively easy for us to attend. It didn’t take long until the company hired “outside security forces”. These goons would walk out near or even outside of the fence and “tempt” those on the outside to fight or scuffle. Worthy of note here is the fact that arrests for picket line violence came with the potential loss of pension benefits – several of those involved did lose such things. Within the first week of the presence of outside security forces (directed interestingly by the local security chiefs), we found ourselves in court, facing an injunction request to severely limit our picket capabilities. The company desired to show only their “clipped video” as evidence, but the Union lawyer demanded that if company video be used, it be used in its entirety. This probably kept the first injunction from being extreme, in that it showed a company-led effort to intimidate picketers with the use of “goons”.
By August, there had been no further negotiating sessions. The company was dug in; the town had decided that they valued the paychecks of whoever was getting paid, more than they valued the loyalty and community dedication of those who had lived there forever. Although our UPIU members had been church-goers, high school football fans, Little League coaches, Scoutmasters, United Way contributors and neighbors, we were suddenly a risk. We were the ones who might be causing their precious paper mill to leave, taking its precious paychecks with it!
We scheduled a rally and march, permits were granted, and friends invited. When IP got wind of the fact that a couple of busloads of folks were coming to town from Jay, ME, we were back in court, defending our rally permit and fighting another injunction. The rally and march were set for Saturday, and Friday evening around 6:30 (a little before shift change) two buses of sisters and brothers from Maine arrived in Lock Haven to lend a hand and show their support!
Those of us who lived and had worked in Lock Haven were in our “hometown,” for whatever it was worth. The folks who came from Maine were on strike against the same company, had the same disdain for scabs and the same growing, simmering hatred for IP. Where we locals had settled into a routine of cursing scabs at shift change, occasionally kicking a fender, our out-of-town visitors and supporters had slightly different rules and roles. As cars started through the gate, people descended onto the roadway, pounding and kicking fenders and doors, being radically more fearsome than we had been in recent weeks. It was, I suppose, an inspiration to the more radical among us. Soon, traffic had stopped flowing out of the gates, the scabs were stranded inside. PA state police began arriving in greater numbers, and quickly they were pushing and shoving people back from the entry/exit roadway. Suddenly, sanity was lost, folks were being dragged, cuffed and beaten, then thrown into police cars to be hauled away! That evening, I was at the edge of my first-ever riot. From that moment forward, everybody always wore a blue shirt to the picket line, so that it would always be ‘the one in the blue shirt’ who did it!
When the next morning arrived, our planned march was still in jeopardy. Friends and supporters from all over PA came to Lock Haven, as did PA state police. The police came in cruisers and squad cars. They came in buses and with “paddy wagons”. They had trucks and helicopters, they had 250 fully riot equipped PA state policemen. They lined the roadway, with their backs to the papermill fence and carefully kept us from “invading” the mill. We marched past them and to an area away from the mill to hold our rally, but the impression had been made. Funny how the sight of all of that might and equipment can have an effect on people. My children never again visited the picket line. I still remember asking those allegedly unionized cops whose side they were on, why they would protect such obvious greed. I couldn’t help feel that somehow, their day would come. After the rally, we entertained our out-of-town guests as best we could, but Maine had never sent such force to their hometown, and we were left spending time trying to explain how it had all come to pass.
Monday, we were in court again and this time none of us doubted that we would be limited more severely. When the dust settled, we would be limited to 4 pickets at each of two gates; the one where the scabs came and went, and the gate that truck traffic used. As the shift changes were regularly timed, they were readily visited and policed. The truck traffic gate quickly became the scene of mayhem without warning. Radicals would show up, often in numbers that violated the injunction and would harass drivers or flatten tires and be gone before cops could respond. The town and area retreated into an uneasy sense of itself. Grocery stores were occasionally scenes of confrontation. Public meetings were always packed by folks in blue T-shirts. Both sides dug in and no further negotiations were held. It was as IP saw it, over.
Our local and its friends established a food pantry. We had an office, with exceedingly good communications capabilities. We were ready for battle on many fronts, but were without a battleground or a visible foe. That fall, Rev Jesse Jackson came to town to picket with us and talk to members. He said,” Mr and Mrs Scab, I have news for you. If you take a man’s $10/hr job for $8/hour, there is a $6/hour crowd right around the corner.” I have never forgotten that. I can’t remember anything else from the event, but can’t forget that! Our people stood strong, an occasional defection turned into what my sisters and brothers called “SuperScabs”. I never considered something that low as “super.”. CBS News had a show called ’48 Hours’ and we felt that at last we would be getting the exposure and press we needed to show that we were willing and standing against this corporate behemoth. They came to town, it turned out, with interest only in showing the suicide of one our brothers and the divorces that were quickly piling up. In short they wanted to show how trampled we were. We were not interested and they left in less than 2 hours instead of 48.
The UPIU eventually recognized the depth of our plight and decided to hire a ‘gun’ to help us. They hired Ray Rogers’ “Corporate Campaign”. Rogers had successfully executed the campaign that eventually got contracts signed by JP Stevens in the Southern textile industry. He had also been involved with the P-9 folks in their strike against Hormel in Austin,MN. He and his staff found links on the Board of Directors with several major corporations, among them, the Bank of Boston, PNC Bank, Coca-Cola, Pfizer, and more. Meanwhile, another former Hammermill facility of 400 workers in DePere, WI saw their contract expire and they, too, faced the “IP agenda”. DePere joined the strike, and we felt almost empowered. Slowly, if need be, we would get to this greedy giant!
The Rogers’ campaign called for paperworkers from each location to travel in ‘caravans’ to other cities, seekig support and spreading our word. CORPORATE GREED MUST BE STOPPED! A ‘caravan’ would consist of however many cars and people we could manage to sustain and keep busy in whichever city we were traveling to. My role in this process would become that of advance man. In that position, i would rarely see my sisters and brothers, always leaving one city for the next just as my folks were arriving in the last place I’d been. Advance details meant places to sleep, eat, shower, speak, picket or solicit. Our first caravan stop was Pittsburgh, PA. They left Lock Haven with 37 cars and 153 people. Pittsburgh is a great union town! The following week, we went to Erie, PA’s third largest city and former home of Hammermill Paper and at that time the site of a large mill, also. This time we traveled with over 160 people,since having a sister union in that town made most of the logistics much easier, and freed up our advance team a little earlier for its next stop, Pittsburgh, again. This time, PA Gov Robert Casey Senior would be in town, and i felt that just possibly we could get a meeting with him. We were after all PA citizens standing up against greed.
The governor didn’t meet with us in Pittsburgh, but not to worry – the next week we would be headed to Harrisburg, our state capital. Surely he would have to meet with us there. We still traveled with more than 120 people, always finding housing and food, gate drops and union meetings. Often our folks spoke at Labor Councils, where they touched several unions at once, or made arrangements for an individual to visit a Local at another time. While in Harrisburg, we visited many union halls, the PA AFL-CIO, many elected representatives, and Hershey Chocolate. There the company so feared that our presence would incite their workers to take some action that they asked us to take a gate drop collection at a different location that the company would provide and promote. Three days in Harrisburg with nearly 150 of our members, and still, the governor did not meet with us. This was getting annoying!
We had been on the road for nearly a month – 3 or 4 days/week at least, with over 100 people. We campaigned at union halls, labor councils, United Way functions, and factory gates; wherever folks would listen. Several of our members became quite good at telling our story. Our next stop would be Philadelphia, and would be a bigger challenge than any of us had imagined. Philly is a GREAT Union town, too ! I had made some contacts earlier, the Corporate Campaign people were a huge help, and the UPIU had a large presence and office in the city. Still, the city was bigger than anywhere we had been, and we are hillbillies at heart, and we had one week to plan for the excursion!
It was quickly decided that we would take as many people as wanted to attend, but that we would reduce the number of cars and use a bus for major transportation. With the bus full, and a couple of private cars, nearly 90 people made this caravan trip. We arranged a rally at JFK Plaza, downtown, to coincide with the arrival of our busload of people. Words can scarcely describe my relief when our bus not only arrived on time for the scheduled rally, but that when the door came open, my local president was standing with a uniformed Philly police officer discussing and demonstrating turkey calling techniques! Unionized Police, Firemen, Sheetmetal Workers, Newspaper Guild folks, CWA members and Transit Workers were among the many helpful sisters and brothers that helped us navigate the “big city”. A contribution that cannot be overlooked was that of the Philadelphia Labor Council.
As fate would have it, Gov Casey was also in town. With the aid of and at the urging of the Philly Labor Council, the governor agreed to meet with a small contingent of us. I had been a former local officer, and had earned my chance, but my participation was conditioned in advance upon my agreeing to NOT ask the governor about the state police presence and force that had been shown and used in Lock Haven. As the time approached, I felt eerily calm in the face of meeting the man who had frustrated me across the Commonwealth. I believed that he could do two things that day: 1) He could demonstrate a willingness to go “to bat for” PA residents against a greedy corporation, and 2) He could explain why things had transpired the way they had. When it became evident after nearly a half hour in that meeting that he would/could do little or nothing to help us poor, hard working residents of a remote, rural county in his domain, I decided that my agreement meant nothing any longer. Against the wishes of my local officers, I openly confronted the governor about the state police. It did me little good, except for the therapy of it all, and that part, I still enjoy! My local VP had his car towed and impounded while we were in that meeting, hillbillies in a “big city!”
All things considered, our Philly visit was among our most successful, but it would take some time for all of the rewards of that trip to be reaped. Some of what we accomplished on that trip was simply making contacts and appointments for speakers to visit individual union meetings. We had however made five visits to PA’s four largest cities, and would now need to revisit our travel abilities and plans. The “mass presence” of our caravans had begun to lose its appeal ad novelty. Some of the troops were beginning to grow weary. Through it all, we still needed to maintain a picket line, and that was the only duty that qualified anyone for “picket pay and union benefits”. This meant that even if someone spent four or five days on the road, and had brought back $10,000 for the coffers, they still needed to pull a picket shift. This policy, too, was inhibiting participation. A new course would be charted by the UPIU, Corporate Campaign, and our Local officers.
It was decided that we would send smaller contingents to the smaller cities in PA, that we send one or two car groups to do “gate drop collections” in locations that didn’t offer a target-rich environment. Pennsylvania is after all, a very rural state! Without the need for logistics to be done weekly for large groups of people traveling from city to city, I was sent to Philly to work out of the UPIU office there, along with a rep from Corporate Campaign. We covered many of the appointments that were made during the caravan event, as well as various leafleting and picketing efforts at various banks and board meetings. By now, it was spring 1988, and the home front was not a pretty sight. It wasn’t that our people were weak or that they wavered. Quite the opposite actually, the longer it went, the harder it got, the stronger these people became! I will go to my grave PROUD to have stood with such people, who distinctly knew the difference between right and wrong – and who knew what that job would become without our union!
As the first anniversary passed, the company found one of their scabs to petition the NLRB to de-certify the UPIU in the Lock Haven mill, and they were also free to enforce the terms of the contract that we would NOT accept. With all of this in the wind, it seemed more and more certain that Local 1787 was never going to be again. Our people somehow clung to the hope that somehow we would get the help, somehow we force their hand. Somehow we might find a way to make them negotiate out the scabs, and us back in. Alas, that was not to be. By the end of the second summer, I was forced to find full-time work. We could no longer travel to other areas and truthfully, we were no longer generating momentum. We were becoming yesterday’s news. Fall rolled around as it is wont to do. I was working as a “sideline carpenter” just to stay close to my family. One warm morning in November, the local radio broadcasted a report that the UPIU had SURRENDERED UNCONDITIONALLY and that the strike was over. They never even asked us to vote! We were ENTIRELY irrelevant.
From that experience, I have come to say, ” I have been bought and sold by both sides; it didn’t feel any better from one than it did from the other!” I am still a union man. I was born a union man and will die a union man! It is the only hope that working folks have, the only chance to climb the ladder upward, rather than getting shoved down the hill by GREED. What remained of the UPIU merged with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, then with the Brick and Clay folks, finally to be saved by the United Steelworkers Union. To that end, I read recently that the USW has just managed to negotiate and sign a “pool contract” for 42 IP finishing plants. It seems that what the fellow from the PA AFL-CIO told us on day one is true after all …. What goes around comes around
Wed Jan 11, 2012 at 7:48 PM PT: An epilogue :
The strike was over and life was to go on. Some in the community actually taunted us. Several other industries within a 50 mile radius wouldn’t hire us; they said that at the first opportunity, we’d return to those “good-paying” jobs.
The folks from Jay, Maine taught us or brought us a saying, “When pigs fly!” And that was when we would vote to do away with Christmas.
The company established a practice of filming us at the picket line, that being in the days when a “camcorder” was about the size of a small suitcase. A few of our members also had such equipment and began bringing their own cameras to film the actions of the goons and the company security folks. When subpoenas began arriving for our first injunction, one of our “camera people” came to me to ask, “What are we going to do if they subpoena my tape?” I told him that we’d send them a copy of ‘Deep Throat’ and get ready to sit in jail for a while.
At the first injunction hearing, the company films were played. At one point, the company lawyer tried to convince the judge that the man in the film was actually using his shoe to set roofing nails on their heads in the roadway. This process took 45 minutes in court, and clearly was not something that was visible on the tape. Also, the security officer who was running the camera apparently was unaware that it would record his voice as well (or else they believed they would be able to edit their evidence)and did not know that he was being recorded saying, “Look at that fucking idiot” or “Move on over there and intimidate them” . Neither of these remarks scored points with the judge, but were huge hits among the strikers!
We made mistakes. I personally came out of that facility believing with all of my heart, that my government would send someone (a mediator) to MAKE them negotiate. We had spent the previous 15 years building a healthy Credit Union. The law may have made us give the scabs our jobs, once we came out, but nothing required us to give them a healthy financial institution. We should have broken it!
When the weekend of the riot/rally was over, I had a 3a.m. to 7a.m. Sunday-Monday picket shift. When 6a.m. Monday arrived, I was picketing with a brother and 2 sisters (God love them) when 40 fully riot-equipped PA state police arrived to keep the scabs safe on their entry/exit from the mill. We were outnumbered 10 to 1 by riot cops. Sheesh!
One of the “supervisors” who until a year or so earlier had been a “union member” had opened a “Creamette” on the outskirts of a neighboring town, 3 or 4 miles from the mill. In the earliest days, this “Creamette” supplied meals to the company people who were working 12 hr shifts keeping us out of a job. This ired some among us. The supervisor’s family name was Snyder. One late night, a car drove past the “Creamette”, slowing as the occupants threw a large stone at the plate glass window. Mr Snyder, who was not employed at the mill, stepped from behind the corner, leveled the barrel of a 12 gauge shotgun at the passenger compartment of the car and fired. The occupants of the car were able to drive themselves to the hospital emergency room, sustaining injuries that although were serious enough, weren’t life-threatening. The place was forever after known as “Sniper’s Creamette” rather than “Snyder’s Creamette”. Co-incidentally, many months later, I received my only ever summons to jury duty. When the man asked if I had any connection with the case, I laughed. The judge did not.
Injunctions are court orders. Once put in place they are technically “in place” until lifted.By the time the strike was over, we were injuncted so far back, that no more than 2 members of UPIU Local 1787 (some radicals were restricted even more) were allowed to congregate on the street within a half mile f the plant – slightly further in a couple of directions! Twenty years later, I actually worked for a company where the owner and I weren’t legally allowed to talk on the sidewalk outside of his building. The judge who issued these orders died without ever lifting the injunctions
My father , who had been a union man all of his life, warned me and coaxed me on a couple of fronts. He cautioned that “In this day and age, you’ll never get people to stick together” …. and he implored me to “Keep it peaceful”. Well, we kept it moderately peaceful; to this day, I occasionally regret that. And to the great credit and worth of the people that stood that ground, only 7 or 8 percent of our people caved in and returned to work. Interestingly, Hammermill took pride in the fact that we had a family of 5 brothers of a 4th generation working in this mill. IP couldn’t care at all. One of them became one of the 7 or 8%. SCAB!
Once a scab, always a scab! While campaigning in Bethlehem, PA where once 22,000 steelworkers were employed, I went to lunch with a Brother and his 84 year old mom. At a greasy spoon diner, a bent and stooped old man with a cane walked in. My friend’s mom sneered – this was early 1988. She said, “You see that guy? He was a scab in the cigar factory strike in 1923!” Sixty five years later she remembered!
Not on our watch !