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Kohler workers on strike

By Kas Schwerdtfeger

Milwaukee, WI – On Nov. 15, at 9:00 a.m., about 2100 workers of Kohler Co., represented by United Auto Workers Local 883 in Kohler, Wisconsin voted by a 93.4% margin to strike, with about 1800 members voting. The strike started Nov. 15. The facility is shuttered and not operational.

In 2010, Kohler pushed the workers to accept a concessionary contract, slashing all new hires to 65% of what current employees made. While most workers make around $25 an hour, new employees were stuck at $13. Health care costs skyrocketed, from $35 a month for a family in 2010 to $287 a month now. For new hires, called ‘Tier B’ by management, the company proposes a $10,000 out-of-pocket health care expense.

Pete Behrensprung, the International Servicing Representative of UAW Region 4, states, “It's BS plain and simple. There are around 400 new hires since 2010, called Tier B. There's no way under God's creation someone who's making $13 an hour can spend $10,000 a year on health care. Company wanted to take care of higher paid workers close to retirement, and thought we'd turn our back on the younger Tier B workers. People with seniority, close to retirement are the most vocal about not leaving those people behind. Management calls them Tier B – we call them fellow union members.”

The privately held Kohler Company has a long history of strikes. Workers struck in 1933, when two men were killed and 43 others injured as special deputies attacked demonstrators. In 1954, workers who had joined the United Auto Workers struck again until Dec. 1965, the longest strike in U.S. history. Another two week strike occurred in 1983. Since the 2010 cuts, the Kohler family's wealth increased from $2.2 billion to over $7 billion.

“If you look back over the last 80 years, the workers of the past took care of the workers of today, it took a long strike in 1954 to take care of them, getting good benefits and wages. The workers of today have a responsibility to take care of the workers of tomorrow. We are out for them, and we'll be out as long as we have to protect working people and their futures,” said Behrensprung

The union is calling for a six-year plan to raise employees hired since 2010 up to the rate of older workers.

Workers from around the state of Wisconsin will be driving up to support those on strike.

Andrew May, a semi-truck driver and member of Teamster Local 344 and the United Workers Organization, states, “I'm supporting the strikers to show solidarity. The more strength and support they have, the easier it is to have a fair contract and win a victory for Wisconsin workers. Workers should go to the picket lines and stand with them and spread the word locally in their own workplaces and communities.”

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