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The Defense Industries Personal Mexico Has Had Enough! Camden Workers Are Standing UP!

At an event hosted by IAMAW District W2021’s Shawn Vanderjack and Wade Istre, questions about how unions function and how a union would help them was a key topic for these workers.

I think this meeting went really well, it blows my mind that we as Americans, stand up for our first amendment right to free speech, and freedom of religion. We stand up for our 2nd amendment right to bear arms, but when people talk about their rights as workers, they whisper and hide, as if they are doing something they should be afraid of doing… Look folks, when you set foot over on Aerojet and Lockheed property, you are still on American soil. When you go through the hiring process, and start a job building weapons to protect this great country, do you think this country’s laws don’t apply to you anymore? You signed away your rights as an American worker? I’m sick of it! These workers have been treated like this for so long, they think this is just the way things are. No Sir, this is the way things are, in Camden… In The United States of America, there is a law that was passed in 1935 that protects workers rights to form a union. It allows workers being forced to work 12-hour shifts, 7 days a week with s*** pay a way to make a change. Imagine getting 1 day off every 2 weeks to spend time with your family. Workers actually say “don’t say the U-word”, like a kid afraid that his parents might have heard him curse. Right now we are seeing people actually stand up for themselves. We saw a large group of these workers show up, with courage in their hearts and say "we are tired of being worked like dogs". We represent 46 sites, owned by L3Harris and 33 sites owned by Lockheed Martin, for a reason. I'm a strong believer that not every company needs a union, but some companies need a union at every site they own! These two facilities are a prime example of why. The Company found out there is interest, so a guy from Corporate comes down and tells one building "We hear you, we hear you, we are going to remodel the bathrooms and we are in talks about possible pay increases". Ask the workers in Huntsville, AL but this looks like. It's a committee that you submit an essay to, about why you think you deserve a raise, and then they just deny you. It's a Joke. You want actual wage increases annually? Join a union." -Shawn Vanderjack

The defense workers town hall meeting was met with great discussion and even better questions from those in attendance. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers (Machinists Union) held a town hall meeting on Saturday, Dec 2nd; to discuss the requests by many workers to bring a union to the large defense industry facilities, located in Camden Arkansas. The issues cited for these requests; didn’t just involve money but working conditions as well.

The workers that attended had great questions; the following are highlights from the evenings Q&A segment.

Q “Can a union do anything about companies contracting outside workers to come in and do the same job we are doing, but they are being paid over $30 an hour, housing, and per diem while we are working right next to them making $16-$19 an hour?”

A “Yes, those would be union jobs, if the company has an issue with staffing, but they can staff the place no problem with $30 an hour… well they have the solution, don’t they. They will not be able to contract out union labor, if they want to attract and retain talent, they can offer competitive wages and benefit packages. We represent Potlatch in Warren, and El Dorado Chemical… Both facilities make a lot more money than the workers in Camden. Yes, a sawmill worker in Warren Arkansas that we represent, makes more than you do making missiles for the military.”


Q “Can the union get Medical Marijuana off the drug policy? It’s legal now.”

A “So because the insurance companies that cover large production facilities are guided by federal and state regulations, the answer is no. Federally Marijuana is still illegal, if a company allowed that, there wouldn’t be an insurance company in the country willing to write your employer a policy. Our position on Marijuana is that we don’t have a position on Marijuana, what you do is none of our business. If there was a way to get it off and most members wanted that, we would try. However, that is completely out of our control and I’m pretty sure the company doesn’t have a say in the matter either. They need their facilities insured.”


Q “What happened with Aerojet in Huntsville, Alabama?”

A “So about 4 months ago we had a union election in Huntsville. They had the same problems you folks have here. The company started pretending like they cared, began “operation Pizza Party”, promised them things were going to change. They asked the workers to give them a chance and the workers in Huntsville believed L3Harris. 6 weeks after the employees voted no to a union and gave the company another chance, L3Harris cut their insurance, raised premiums and the new plan had less coverage. The promise of a better system to get raises ended up being a big lie. The company created a committee to evaluate individual employees based on merit for raises. They must write an essay about why they deserve a raise and since the thing was created only 2 employees have been approved for them. The law states that after a loss, the workers can’t try to form a union for a whole year. These workers found out the hard way what a corporate promise means to its employees. It’s empty and weightless. A union contract is binding by law, if the boss can make a promise, he can put it in writing and sign it. Theres a reason they don’t want to do that, it’s because they have no intention of following through.”


Q “We are told that unions don’t allow OT, a lot of us depend on that.”

A “You folks tell your elected committee what you want and how you would like OT to work. Right now, your boss just points at people and says you’re working all weekend. Is that a fair system? Maybe a sign-up sheet for folks that want it, and if a shift can’t be filled, force the least senior qualified? Our goal would be to implement something everyone can live with, and you and your committee gets to decide what that may look like. The Idea that we don’t allow overtime is a lie and it’s a small piece in the IAM constitution that we keep in there as legacy language. It was put in as a suggestion to members in the 1920’s. During the great depression the members drafted a small piece to add into our constitution that asks members to deny working anything over 40 hours a week. This was done because during that time, families were starving, if you worked overtime, you were essentially making sure another family didn’t get to eat. This stays in our constitution today so that we are reminded of who we are and what the people before us stood for. In short, you can work all the overtime you want; however, the selection process needs to be done in a fair consistent way that everyone including the company can live with. This is negotiated to reflect the needs of the workers and the needs of the company to run a business and fill orders.”

Q “If the Union comes in what happens to raises that we are supposed to get?”

A “The law says that the company must maintain the status quo during an organizing drive. If raises have been announced and employees have been told they will take effect in January, it is against the law to withhold that because the workers are trying to form a union.”


Q “What guarantees can the union give us if we were to go union?”

A “We will not guarantee anything, its contract negotiations, everything is negotiable, if I promised this, that, or the other thing, I would end up a liar. I can say a couple things with confidence and certainty, you will end up with better than you have now, because the law says the company must bargain in good faith. Reverse bargaining isn’t good faith bargaining. I can also say that you folks probably won’t get $36 an hour like our other facility on your first contract. These facilities have been in this union for a long time and have negotiated through a few contract terms to get where they are today. However, over time it is attainable.”


Q “I was told that we could end up with more, but we could get less if we joined a union.”

A “So the law says both parties including the company must bargain in good faith, that means you can’t reverse bargain unless your committee and union rep go in there and say “hey we just really love it here and we would like to take a pay cut…” which isn’t a thing…”

 Q “Can a union help us from being short staffed?”

A “Yes, in the sense that no one wants to work at a place that’s offering low wages, unlimited forced OT and will cut benefits whenever they feel like they can save a buck.”


Q “How can the union protect us from being fired when trying to unionize?”

A “The National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935, you have the right as an American, to form, join, participate in a labor union. It is illegal under the NLRA for an employer to threaten, retaliate, coerce, and discourage their employees from forming a union. Management isn’t even allowed to ask you if you support it or not. If charges are proven, the Labor Board could implement the union without even running an election. They broke the law, so you are a union now, and it’s time to bargain a contract. That was a recent board decision and it’s really had an impact on the way companies conduct themselves. We finally have actual consequences when you’re rights as American Workers are violated. There is a legal playbook companies use, and it usually involves hiring a “union avoidance firm” They have been using the same talking points and strategies since the 80’s. Someone who you’ve never seen before is going to show up claiming to be HR and vow to fix everything. That person is a professional persuader, their job is to talk you all out of it. This type of coercion isn’t illegal, they aren’t bribing you or offering you any special treatment to drop union support. Instead, they plant seeds of doubt and convince you that a union could be bad for you and your co-workers in captive audience meetings. They initiate “Operation Pizza Party” and hold employee appreciation luncheons.  They are good at it too, imagine someone stealing your tire and then talking you into being grateful that you have 3 tires, and thanking them for it… If having a union is bad for you, why are these companies fighting it so hard? It won’t get you a better deal with a union? Is that why they don’t want you to have one? Let’s get real… When these folks tell you that ya'll are like a family, they are equivilant to the creepy relative that isn't invited to thanks giving dinner. They know they can afford to do better by you and your families, but they would rather inflate their stocks and keep those big bonuses coming for themselves.”


Q “Does the company negotiate our union dues?”

A “No, the dues are set by your Local Lodge. You folks here in Camden would be in Local 502, dues are about $70 a month or $35 biweekly, however your group decides to do it.”


Q “How can a union help with broken, and duct taped tools? I have a job to do and I don’t even have proper tools to do it.”

A “So that’s a working condition and yes that’s negotiable. It could also be considered a safety issue. Tools in the workplace should be in perfect condition or be thrown away. A damaged tool can cause a serious injury and a grievance would be filed. This is also why we have safety committee language in our contracts. We ask that a joint union-management committee be kept to address safety issues and concerns. The Union gets a copy of the meeting minutes and corporate also gets one. This keeps the local management team from sweeping things under the rug to cut costs.”


Q “So what does it look like after, if we win?”

A “Your business Rep, Wade Istre, will send the company an official demand to bargain letter and coordinate dates to meet with the company, we hold nominations and elections of stewards, plant committee persons for bargaining, and a Chief Shop Steward to lead the union on plant site. We send out contract surveys to all employees so they can voice their main issues and write in ideas they would like to see. Your elected committee will use those with Wade Istre, your business rep; to draft contract proposals and prepare to bargain with the company. Bargaining can take time for schedules to line up, we’ve had contracts hammered out in 3 days of negotiations, we’ve had companies drag their feet for 6 months or longer… If a company wants to stall, we do have ways of making things hard for them and are eager to get a contract done. Contracts usually last for 3 years and then we renegotiate from that, again bargaining in good faith is law, so we go up from that point.”

Q "Ok, so how do we get this done?"

A "We need 65% of eligible employees to sign a Authorization Card. The company does not get to see these, its between us and the National Labor Relations Board. We turn those cards in to the NLRB, they will come to the plantsite and hold an election, if 51% vote yes; you are a certified bargaining unit and the company is required by law to meet with us and bargain in good faith."

If you would like to be added to the Machinists Unions, Camden Contact list, click the button below and fill out a contact form and we will send you informational updates about meetings and future events.





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