A block-lettered sign on a carwash in front of Bedford’s Visteon plant captured the mood of the town: “GO HOME/ SCABS/TERRORISTS.”
Visteon is a former division of Ford Motor Co. At the Bedford plant, they manufacture fuel delivery system components and windshield wiper modules. The men and women of the Visteon plant love America, and they have loved the Ford Motor Company as well. No Toyota or Dodge carries any Bedford Visteon employee to work.
There’s a sense of belonging and ownership, of history: “Our ancestors built these corporations, GM and Ford, your ancestors and my ancestors,” Jim Lobbes says.
“It’s just like an extended family, and right now I’m missing a lot of them,” Tonya Soveren says.
During the first meeting with Visteon, the International Union of Electrical Workers-Communications Workers of America Local 907 representatives were told that 550 jobs were going to be shipped to Mexico and that the remaining members of the plant would have to accept a benefit and wages cut that workers have calculated will amount to $240 a month.
This is not really that surprising to some. Between 1994 and 2001, Indiana lost 31,000 jobs to Mexico, according to the Jobs With Justice report that offers a state-by-state evaluation of the local impact of the NAFTA trade agreement.
But each of those 31,000 jobs represents a personal loss for an Indiana worker. “They’re cashing in those jobs that our ancestors built. They say it’s for future world growth but we all know these guys aren’t meritorious world citizens,” Lobbes says. In fact, Mexican manufacturing wages actually fell 21 percent between ’94 and ’01.
On Sunday, after 15 days of striking that turned violent, the IUEW-CWA voted 528-410 to accept the new terms proposed by Visteon. Workers returned to their jobs at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday. The four-year contract guarantees the existence of 700 jobs: a net loss of 350. In addition, workers must accept an hourly pay cut of 79 cents, down from the $1.04 cut. Retirees will now have to pay 8 percent premiums on insurance that used to be free.
When the union declared a strike on May 30, Visteon was willing to shell out real money to break the strike. It hired a company called Huffmaster Crisis Management. Huffmaster brought in a replacement workforce from another city. They were put up at a local Bloomington hotel and bussed in to Bedford each day.
It was on the first day of the strike when things got nasty. A group of strikers sought to prevent a van of replacement workers from entering the plant by linking arms and blocking the driveway. As the men of the strike stood in front, blocking the van, the women held up the back ranks. As they stood facing the van, Huffmaster security officers came up behind and began shoving the women in back and grabbing the picket signs from the hands of the strikers. Several took off their belts and struck the picketers about the head and shoulders with their belt buckles, according to several eyewitnesses.
When the men moved to protect the women, the security officers began swinging the heavy pickets at the strikers. Lobbes said, “The security guard swung the picket stick like he was swinging a baseball bat. I thank God for that second I turned around and put up my arm, or I’d be eating through a straw right now.” He sports a 9-day-old bruise that still impairs his hand movement.
Soveren, whose arm is in a sling, said, “Two of the Huffmaster security officers came through the crowd at me, and grabbed my American flag from the back, and jerked my arm backwards; I felt it pop. I saw a doctor today. I may be having to have surgery. Then they threw the flag on the ground, and that really irritated me. I had a lot of respect for this company, but then they brought the goons in.”
Several people said security personnel shoved strikers down in front of the van and screamed, “Gun it! Gun it! Gun it!”
The violence on the part of Huffmaster security only served to deepen the resolve of the strikers. Huffmaster Crisis Management declined to comment.
In the days that followed, several junk cars were dumped at the entrance to the plant and overturned, apparently in a further effort to block the scabs from entering the property. In response, Bedford police turned the area into a federal crime scene and still guard the entrance to the plant.
On the Huffmaster Web site, a video promoted the strikebreakers: “Huffmaster Crisis Management steps in and gives you what your workforce won’t: a sense of security that nothing will prevent you from servicing your clients. Huffmaster Crisis Management: Keeping Business in Business™.”