Reflecting Back on North Carolina’s History of Racism and Worker Exploitation

Local Lodge 2297 Shows “Heart And Compassion” For Striking Workers at Moncure Plywood on strike from July of 2008 thru March of 2009. Union workers at Moncure Plywood in Chatham County are on strike. The wood workers are members of IAMAW Local Lodge W369. Lewis Cameron, the local president, has worked at the plant for 35 years.

“They treat us like dogs,” Cameron said of Wood Resources, the company that bought the plant, which produces hardwood plywood used in upholstered furniture, from Weyerhaeuser in December 2004. Management’s relationship with the union and working conditions in the plant have since deteriorated.

“They have stripped us of our dignity,”

Picketing outside the plant began on Sunday at 9 p.m., and 90 percent of the 206 workers in the bargaining unit have refused to cross picket lines.

The strike came after the union rejected the company’s last take-it-or-leave-it offer. Workers are protesting hikes in their insurance premiums, the company’s hiring of temporary workers, the elimination of seniority rights, and – unbelievably – a mandatory 60-hour work week.

The plant is located at 306 Corinth Rd, Moncure, NC in Chatham County – about a 30 minute drive southwest from Raleigh.

The 110 members of International Association of Machinists Local W369 have been walking the picket line 24 hours a day for eight months since the company refused to negotiate with the union last July.

Local W369 is a 40-year-old union, and this is its first strike. The racial composition of the local reflects the demographics of the area--largely African American, with some Latinos and whites. Many of the workers on strike have been at the plant 20 or 30 years.

For the first time in eight months, machinists at Moncure Plywood will dress for work Monday morning.

The plant’s 109 union workers approved a new three-year contract Monday night that will end their strike against Atlas Holdings, the owner of the Chatham County plywood factory. Many of the employees had worked at the plant for decades before striking over company demands for a seven-day workweek and 200 percent increases in health insurance premiums.

The new contract keeps wages and work schedules essentially as they were. But provisions giving workers a share of the plant’s financial success, new safety initiatives and shared decision-making are improvements. There is a slight increase in insurance costs, according to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The union and the company approved a tentative agreement late last week during a meeting arranged by a federal mediator. The members endorsed the contract by a vote of 59 to 24.

“Everyone is very relieved,” said Melvin Montford of IAM and the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which had supported the workers during the strike. “If this hadn’t been settled, it was feared that the plant would just shut down and move away”.