Hundreds Rally To Support Striking Laborers at Cretex; Pensions Key Issue

SHAKOPEE, Minn. –Arturo Sanchez is accustomed to working outside in all kinds of weather, making concrete products at Cretex Companies in Shakopee, Minn. He didn’t mind the hard work, he said, because he was earning a decent living and putting money into a pension plan for the day he would retire.

Now Cretex wants to take that money and convert the workers’ secure, union-based pension plan into a 401(k) worth much less – a tactic companies nationwide are trying to force on workers, union and non-union.  Cretex’s move forced Sanchez and some 40 other members of Laborers Local 563 to walk off the job seven weeks ago.

On August 6, hundreds of people – including top lawmakers and Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan – gathered outside the Cretex plant to show support for the workers and their fight for retirement security.

“These workers did the right thing – they put money away for their retirement out of their raises,” said Local 563 Business Manager Tim Mackey, business manager for Local 563. “We’re not going to let them (Cretex) steal our money.”

The crowd included people wearing bright orange Laborers (LIUNA) T-shirts and members of other unions sporting their colors.  On a nearby rail line, members of the United Transportation Union blew their horns in solidarity as they passed.

Negotiations broke down June 18, when Cretex did not budge from its demand to eliminate pension contributions and slash the workers’ retirement package almost 80%.

Cretex demands that workers like Sanchez, who have less than five years of seniority, lose all the money they had put into their retirement.  Older workers, who had planned to retire from the physically taxing work, would be forced to stay on the job longer under the reduced benefit, Local 563 said.

Top leaders of the Minnesota legislature addressed the crowd and urged Cretex to treat the workers fairly.  They noted the company is doing well financially and benefitted from its employees’ hard work.

“Corporations and the wealthy are getting richer and the middle class is stagnant,” said state House Speaker Paul Thisssen, DFL-Minneapolis.  “We’re going to stand with you through all of this…”  And state Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, issued a stern warning to the company: “My message to the executives at Cretex is ‘We are not turning back the clock on workers’ safety, on workers’ benefits – not now, not ever!”  DFL is Minnesota Democrats’ name: The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

O’Sullivan told the crowd that their fight to protect retirement security is being watched closely.  “The outcome of this strike, this fight in Minnesota, will have an impact across the country,” he said.  “Losing is not an option.  We’re going to stay strong.”

The local is urging people to call Cretex CEO Lynn Schuler at (763) 441-2121 “to let him know Minnesota workers deserve better from a Minnesota-based company.”   It’s also raising funds to support the strikers.  O’Sullivan presented a $25,000 check.

Worker Alex Ocampo said he appreciated the support and the contributions will come in handy in the next few weeks as he gets his son and daughter ready for school. Most of all, he hopes Cretex decides to return to the bargaining table with a proposal that shows it values the work he and his co-workers perform.

“It hurts,” Ocampo said of the company’s actions that forced a strike.  “I don’t see a reason why they should do this.”