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Officials at ZF Boge apparently believe that contracts can be amended, ignored or broken at their whim. Members of UAW Local 2343 know otherwise.
"It's like anything else: When you sign a contract, you have to honor that contract," said Willie Runyan, a machine operator and the local's president in Paris, Ill.
Local 2343 members are standing together, pushing for a reluctant ZF Boge to keep its word. Not only does the local have a pending federal lawsuit against ZF Boge for closing the plant after members won specific language to keep it open, but they also recently won a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) settlement against the auto parts supplier on three separate unfair labor practices.
That means more than 50 Local 2343 workers will get vacation pay and bonuses they were promised by the company.
The unpaid vacation and retention bonus payments, which range from $200 to $350 per year of service, are important to ZF Boge workers. They refused to sign away their rights to the payments after the company went back on its word to keep the plant open last year.
"They're just glad they got it," Runyan said of the laid-off workers. "These were people who had four weeks of vacation pay coming, plus the severance."
For workers like Robert Stewart, a five-year fork lift operator, the money helps, but it's just one battle in a longer war. He hopes the federal lawsuit succeeds and ZF Boge is required to honor its 2007 contract with the union. Both sides reached an agreement in which workers granted the company concessions in return for a specific promise to keep the plant open. The company then broke the deal and moved the work to a nonunion facility in Hebron, Ky.
"We think they were trying to break us," Stewart added. "They didn't get the job done, actually."
Stewart says the company has been moving equipment from the plant.
"There are a lot of good people who lost their jobs," he said. "We just want a fair shake."
Dennis Williams, director of UAW Region 4, where the Paris facility is located, said he hopes the NLRB settlement is a sign of good things to come for Local 2343 members.
"The NLRB settlement on the unpaid vacation and bonuses is very important to these workers. It will help pay bills and feed their families," Williams said. "We continue to fight hard to make sure that ZF Boge honors its legal obligations."