Budget Tighter, Resolve Firm For Goodyear Striker
Posted October 25, 2006
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Oct. 5 was a day of reckoning for Angi Black.
She revved the engine of her Harley Davidson to a deafening crescendo at the plant gates the day United Steelworkers declared a strike.
Black was pumped up and ready to make a statement. She wanted to show Goodyear that she was worth every penny in her paycheck and every dime spent on her health care.
She joined about 20 other bikers in thunderous motorized applause as thousands of workers walked off the job that sunny Thursday afternoon.
The boisterous woman with thick blond hair firmly believes that striking was the only way Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. workers could keep their pay, benefits and pensions.
This is money and security she says workers were promised when they signed on to the job. Striking was the only way to prove their worth, she said.
Black makes more than a decent living as a tire builder. She gets paid about $27 an hour, including bonuses, for an eight-hour shift, six days a week. Black works on the line with another person, where they turn out more than 460 tires a shift with just two 10-minute breaks and a 20-minute lunch.
The tires weigh about 50 pounds each. Putting them together is hard, sweaty work that she didn't mind having a break from, for a while.
But after more than two weeks on strike, she and many others are feeling the pressure to get back in the tire room instead of standing on a picket line.
The initial buzz of making a stand has waned into a determined effort to stay strong, she said.
Goodyear and the union have been unable to reach an agreement on the three-year labor contract that caused the strike, leaving 16 plants across the U.S. and Canada without a majority of their workers.
So far, neither side has decided to reopen talks, so Black and other picketers continue to pace the lines while a skeleton staff keeps the plants operating.
Black said the reality of not having a paycheck is starting to set in as the days wear on.
"I think it is starting to hit everyone, not knowing and thinking of the worst," she said.
But they continue to wage their fight even as the holidays loom and budgets become tighter and tighter.
About 2,000 United Steelworkers are on strike in Fayetteville.
In shifts of about 40, they man a 24-hour picket line outside the Ramsey Street plant where barrels of firewood keep members warm at night and coolers full of water and sodas provide relief in the day.
Black joins them almost daily to get the latest scoop on who has crossed the line, what progress is being made over the contract and who needs a jolt of reassurance that what the union is doing is right.
Black joined the union soon after taking a job as a press operator in 1998. She liked the idea that there was a group out there to look after her best interests.
After all, she wanted to keep this job.
It provided her extra income after going through a divorce and, even though the added hours made her scarce around the house, she was able to provide for herself and her daughter.
Black makes the 30-mile drive from her Bladen County home to work the night shift at Goodyear six times a week.
When she leaves the plant at day break, she heads straight to a salon she owns on Old Wilmington Highway, where she cuts hair through the afternoon.
By early evening, she drives back to her house, makes dinner, spends about 15 minutes with her daughter and husband and then heads to bed.
Black thought the strike would give her a much-needed break from the grind and some quality time at home with her family.
Her husband, Kenny, a maintenance employee with Cumberland County Schools, and 13-year-old daughter Amber don't see her too often.
"You miss a whole lot of your family life when you work the third shift," she said.
She has found out you miss a good deal of time with them when you're on strike, too.
She has yet to see one of Amber's volleyball games at Tar Heel Middle School. She thought she might catch one this week, but she has been slammed at the salon with appointments and can't turn down the money.
She's had more time to see more clients and is making about $500 a week. "I'm making more because I am there more," she said.
Black knows she's lucky to have the salon to fall back on. Many of her co-workers started at the plant after high school and are now looking for jobs to fill the void.
It's a financial situation no one wants to be in, she said, and it affects every member of a family.
Amber appears to be very mature about the situation. Black said she asked for less for her birthday _ she became a teenager this week _ and requested a small sleep-over instead of a big party.
Black brought Amber to the picket line recently to show her what was keeping her from home. Amber saw the union members jeer the workers leaving the plant and heard all the shop talk about pension plans, wage rates and unfair labor practices.
She just shrugged when asked what she thought of it all, but Black said Amber has been very vocal about the strike at home.
"She's trying to understand it all, and she's handling everything great," Black said.
Black's whole family has had to readjust since the strike.
They are trying to put it all in perspective, but it is a difficult life to balance, Black said, especially if every three years when the labor contract comes up for negotiation you have to go through this process again.
"It's stressful," Black said after leaving a recent shift on the picket line.
It was around 6 p.m., and she was headed back to the union hall to check in before heading home.
She said she likes the fact that she can now make it home for dinner and actually be awake with the people she loves; but the longer the strikes drags on, the harder it will get.
Kenny Black wants his wife to pursue the salon, Kustom Kutz, full time, but Black is not ready to give up just yet.
She wants to hang in there and keep on fighting with her Harley Davidson-loving co-workers.
She wants to keep the job that helped her reach financial stability in the first place, and she hopes her family will continue to support her, because she doesn't plan to back down anytime soon.