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Soaked strikers receive support

June 04, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

A soaked Shawn Kocher was standing in the median of Spielman Road Tuesday afternoon, waving at anyone who would honk, and everyone else who passed by, too.

"It's the only thing that keeps us going," said Kocher, a striking employee at Garden State Tanning's plant a few hundred feet away on Governor Lane Boulevard.

Members of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees voted Saturday to strike after contract negotiations between union and Garden State officials fizzled. Picket lines went up at midnight.

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Workers say the company has not offered sufficient pay, pension or health care benefits, while company officials have said the union may not have properly disseminated the facts about the package because 200 members didn't participate in the final vote.

Kocher is one of more than 750 unionized tannery workers and was one of about 20 workers picketing in the driving rain at the corner of Spielman Road and Governor Lane Boulevard.

"None of us wants to be out here. I mean, I've got family," Kocher said.

Separated with one child, he said he was losing $14 for each hour he doesn't work. While union representatives were trying to work out unemployment payment Tuesday, at present Kocher was only eligible for a $70 per week stipend from the union.

Kocher said he already took a $15,000 a year pay cut in January. "I bit the bullet because I like my job," he said. But with the recent contract problems, "we can't take it no more."

Marshelle Stotler, another striking worker, said she doesn't want to see her pay erode any further. The workers are picketing around the clock, she said.

"I've been here since 5:30 (a.m.). I've only gone home to go to the bathroom," she said.

On Governor Lane Boulevard, lawn chairs and coolers were scattered around the front gates. A grill was ready to make food. Umbrellas were scattered about and everyone was wearing rain gear.

Picketers said they were getting support from other unions.

Kocher said one man who was not a plant worker came out Tuesday morning to picket with them. At the company's other plant on Clear Spring Road, picketers said that while the company had hired workers to run the plant, unionized delivery services weren't bringing supplies.

Roger Stone, 52, was picketing on Clear Spring Road. He said during his first year at the plant in 1977, workers staged a two-week strike. But employees benefited and took home a raise afterward.

"I'm gonna stand right here in the rain," Stone said.

Patrick Davis, 39, another striker, said "if it snowed, I'll be standing here. ... If it's 120 degrees, I'd be out here. I mean this is my job. This is how I make a living."

Back on Spielman Road, Kocher kept watching trucks and cars pass by.

"The older people get it," Kocher said. "The younger people don't. When my little boy grows up, where's he gonna work? Mexico or China?"

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