Editor's note: In response to President Barack Obama's visit to Elkhart, Ind., union organizer Deneen Stout wrote the following letter regarding UAW 364's three-year-old Conn Selmer strike in the North-Central Indiana community.
On April 1, 2006, a company called Conn Selmer, which was owned by the Steinway musical company, wanted takeaways. Our union, working with the big three headed up by UAW President Ron Gettlefinger, supported a strike when we could not agree to contract.
Healthcare, a decrease in wages, language in the contract that gave up major concessions was unacceptable, and the company would have total control.
The owner of Steinway Conn Selmer is Dana Messina, and he knew it would be totally unacceptable to the membership. His aim was to totally destroy our union when we went out on strike. Approximately 80 union scabs were recruited to cross the picket line and 100 outside scabs were hired.
Gettlefinger and Messina claim they have bargained in good faith, but there have not been talks for five months. There have been no UAW union meetings, no food help, and no bucket drops. These are all simple moves that UAW President Gettlefinger has neglected to do. I guess he forgot to read his own international rule book.
"It is time for Americans to take a stand and stop corporate greed."
After almost three years of being on the street, I lost everything but my heart. I have lost my marriage, lost a home, lost cars, lost retired friends with no death benefits, and I cannot pay the bills anymore on the $200 a week for strike pay.
These are just some of the things that myself and other strikers have experienced. Even though in 2007 they raised strike pay to $250 a week, UAW Elkhart Local 364 never saw that increase.
Among the 230 workers in the plant was 4,700 years of experience. We were forced out on the street because we could not accept the terrible conditions that the company wanted to impose.
Today, President Obama was not even a mile from my home. I felt it was important to take a folder of information concerning our long strike to him. So I and fellow UAW member and striker Don Wagner went to the mayor's office at 9 a.m. Monday. The mayor was not even sure he could give the envelope to the president.
"Among the 230 workers in the plant was 4,700 years of experience."
We went to pick up tickets we thought we had coming to us only to find out that the UAW CAPS representative for my local, had picked them up. My president was there to see Obama the last time he was in Elkhart.
Last Thursday, I found out that UAW Local 2209 out of Fort Wayne had donated to our cause on Jan. 23. We wish to thank them from the bottom of our hearts. UAW Regional Director Mo Davison still has that $1,000 at his office and could very well have more donations from Christmas time. Thanks again to all who helped us out. We just wish that Mo Davison had a heart.
Now the RV people are out of work because of the terrible gas prices and the economy. Please Mr. President we need your help. Please look into the corruption here.
Ron Gettlefinger and the UAW officials seem not able to follow their own rules. America would be a better place for workers and their families if you, Mr. President, could straighten this mess out.
All of the stress has really played on the strikers' health, with four deaths since we went out. And retired workers also died with no burial benefits. This strike has been a long hard battle against corporate greed. The National Labor Relations Board is involved with our strike. Many errors have been made.
"After almost three years of being on the street, I lost everything but my heart. "
We are thankful, however, for the weekly strike pay and the insurance, but we want them to negotiate with us also. Where is our buyout Mr. Gettlefinger?
We have had absolutely no help from UAW Regional Director Mo Davison for any activities that could be fundraisers for us. Other regular union members have to step out of the box to do his job. Mr. Gettlefinger do you watch your employees at all?
We also are concerned with our other brothers and sister of other locals in Michigan that have to deal with the same UAW officials.
Please come and speak and let us know what is going on with negotiations up there. We would love to see some of you.
We invite you, President Obama, and you do not have to wear your pajamas like the last benefit rally when you were with Anne Feeney and the rest of America.
Anne Feeney will be here also at our three-year anniversary rally. Please come one and all to show your support on April 1 at McNaughton Park in Elkhart, Indiana from 6 to 9 p.m. for the biggest real working people's rally in modern Elkhart labor history. We urge workers from the region who are on strike or in struggle to come and speak out with us.
It is time for Americans to take a stand and stop corporate greed. Keep our work in America so we can have enough jobs to take care of our families.
I WANT TO LIVE THE AMERICAN DREAM AGAIN.
UAW 364 Striker from Elkhart, Indiana
Deneen Stout can be reached at .
For more information
Conn Selmer Strike
Financial donations can be sent to
Food 4 Strikers
58558 Ardmore Drive
Elkhart, Indiana 46517