Kohler Strikers Hold Out for ‘a Normal Life’

By Kathy Wilkes of LaborNotes

Two weeks after voting to strike and two days after Thanksgiving, members of Auto Workers (UAW) Local 833 are staffing picket lines round the clock near the Kohler plant in the Wisconsin village that bears its name.

It’s 35 degrees outside and sunny—in fact, almost balmy compared to what it will be when the Wisconsin winter sets in. While hopeful that the strike won’t last that long, UAW members are nonetheless prepared to tough it out.

With a vote of 94 percent in favor of the strike, only 13 of this 2,100-member local of Kohler production workers have crossed picket lines since the union and the company hit a bargaining impasse over a two-tier wage scheme that keeps newer workers (Tier B) permanently behind longer-term workers (Tier A).

Strikers are proud that 80 percent of the people picketing are “Tier A taking a stand for Tier B.” Their picket signs proclaim, “Equal Pay for Equal Work” and “94% Can’t Be Wrong.” Posing for the camera they shout, “No More Tiers!” as they wave and smile at passing cars that honk in solidarity.

Some of the most enthusiastic drive-bys have been office workers Kohler assigned to production during the strike.

“They really want to get this over with,” says Local 833 Vice President Jim Brock. Meeting up with his folks on the picket line, Brock arrived on the scene in a hurry and with lots on his mind. He turns around for a quick interview. The tier system, he says, “is just another ploy to split the workers apart.”