"Worth the Walk"
Ten long weeks ended in fanfare today as the production workers from the Hollander Home Fashion Plants in Vernon gathered with their families at the Unite office to celebrate their success. As they feasted on grilled chicken, a mariachi band played cheerful music and children, enthused by their parent's infectious mood, raced around the courtyard.
The same sentiment was echoed throughout the crowd, "I am happy. I just want to go back to work."
And happy they should be. After picketing the plants since March 12, their demands were met last night by the management of Hollander. When they return to work on Monday, they will be given an employer co-sponsored 401(k) plan, plus wage increases of between .30 and .90 cents an hour.
Their struggle has been an exhausting one. In addition to the daily toil on the picket line, leading to numerous arrests for small infractions of an injunction brought against Unite by Hollander, they've been attempting to survive on 0.00 a week strike pay; a difficult prospect for people whose normal wage barely covers the bills. They've also had to stand by each morning and watch as scabs arrive by the busload to take jobs some of them have held for 30 years.
With little word from management until yesterday, all they could do was hope, persevere and, of course, worry. Even though they had little experience as strikers, they kept a steady vigil at both Hollander plants and passed out leaflets at IKEA, J.C. Penny's and Costco. Rumor has it at least one of these stores, IKEA, helped turn up the pressure on Hollander. Another potential factor was the walkout of workers in solidarity at two more of the company's plants, one in Pennsylvania and another in Georgia. In addition, students from five local California universities were beginning to take up the cause.
But in the end, it may have been the workers themselves who tipped the balance. It seems that management's hubristic reliance on temporary labor forced them to acknowledge what the workers knew all along; they were not so easily replaceable. Years of manufacturing products for the Hollander family made them a skilled labor force, not simply another pair of hands.
Perhaps this lesson, and the unity that made this strike such a success, will filter through to other business owners in Los Angeles, the "sweatshop capital of the U.S." While these workers celebrate their victory, thousands of others plod away under conditions in factories, warehouses and farms that are not humane by any standard. But their positions are anything but hopeless. As was seen at Hollander, voices can be heard, even if they've never spoken up before. Change can occur, even if it's one small group at a time.
Watch out Taco Bell...