Strikers replaced by laid-off workers

Posted December 15, 2008 4:50 p.m. EST
Updated December 15, 2008 6:23 p.m. EST

— As area companies lay off scores of workers each week in the sluggish economy, more than 100 workers picket their employer daily as part of a five-month-long strike that has no end in sight.

The 114 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 369 walked off the job at Moncure Plywood on July 20 to protest the the number of hours they were working.

"It's been hell, to say the least. We've been through the heat, the cold, the rain, the storms," said Lewis Cameron, president of Local 369.

Another 102 non-union workers remained on the job, and Moncure Plywood hired close to 70 temporary workers to help keep the plant running, according to the striking workers. Many of the temporary workers had been laid off this year by a Siler City poultry plant, they said.

"I miss going to work and getting a paycheck every week," striking worker Virginia Smith said, adding that it gets more tempting each day to cross the picket line. "I have to pay bills, and I don't have enough money to pay bills."

The union is paying each worker $150 a week during the strike, compared with the $14.75 average hourly wage they received on the job.

Moncure Plywood spokesman Jeff Matuszak declined to comment on negotiations with the union or what caused the strike, saying only that the company wants more flexibility in worker contracts.

Matuszak said Moncure Plywood is hopeful it can reach an agreement with the union and that the company's original contract offer remains on the table.

Strikers said they won't agree to a 60-hour work week, changes in holidays and higher insurance payments.

"If you know it is wrong, you just have to stand up and fight for what's right," striker Cecil Woodard said.

Still, like Smith, Woodard said a strike isn't easy in a tough economy, especially with Christmas next week.

"It's extra hard during the holidays, not being able to get my grandkids a Christmas gift or get my wife anything," he said.