Community expresses its concern

Community expresses its concern
 
Date June 11, 2004
Section(s) Local News
Brief  
 
By MANDI LAMB

and ERIN HALLER-MORAIN

NDN Staff Writers

Community leaders, locally and statewide, reacted to the Maytag strike with concern and expressed their desires for the situation to be resolved quickly to the benefit of both Maytag Corp. and the union workers.

“We’ve heard that they’ve reached an impasse, and we hate to hear that,” said Newton City Administrator Dave Schornack. “I guess we were really hoping that when they got together, after negotiating all (Wednesday) night, this (Thursday) morning that they would have reached an agreement.”

Approximately 1,525 union workers at Maytag‘s washer and dryer plants walked off their jobs at 4 p.m. Thursday and immediately organized picket lines at Maytag‘s corporate office building and the production plant.

“We’re just sad to hear this is happening, for both sides,” Schornack added. “This is not good for anybody. We hope that the strike is short-lived and that they reach an agreement so they can get back to work.”

The deadline for a new contract passed at midnight May 31, but negotiations continued for more than a week after. Union negotiators have a meeting scheduled for 2:45 p.m. today in the Newton Senior High School gymnasium to discuss with workers why a strike was called.

Although few local business owners offered detailed responses to the strike, several expressed concern for their businesses as well as for the families affected by the situation. Community leaders also voiced their worries.

“My heart goes out to our town,” said Jean Morgan, Newton City Council member. “These are hard times. We’re just in a bad economic time. My heart bleeds for the families, the children involved, all the men and women workers. It’s heartbreaking. That’s all there is to it.”

Gov. Vilsack received word of the strike only minutes before union workers began the strike, according to his spokesman Matt Paul.

“The governor is monitoring the situation closely,” Paul said. “(He) is hopeful that both sides will reach an agreement that is good for the workers, good for Maytag and good for Iowa.”

Sen. Tom Harkin also expressed disappointment and urged both parties “to come back to the table and negotiate a fair and equitable contract as soon as possible.”

“Coming on the heels of last week’s announced layoffs at the Newton plant, this is an especially difficult time for families in the area,” Harkin said in a press release.

State Senator Dennis Black points a finger to Wall Street analysts putting unfair pressure on the company’s stock value.

“It’s a sad state of affairs that, in America, a Wall Street analyst has the ability to direct within the industry so much change based on the stock’s value,” Black said. “Working men and women are in trauma over lost paychecks.”

City council member Mike Hansen said he had remained hopeful that a contract agreement was close to being reached when the union and the company agreed to continue talks after the expiration of the current contract.

“As one who represents workers and negotiates labor agreements myself, I encourage both parties to return to the table and resume those talks,” Hansen said. “Hopefully an agreement can be reached soon for the good of the workers, the local and the company.”

Hansen said he met with Schornack and Mayor Chaz Allen Thursday after learning of the strike.

“We all stand ready to provide any appropriate assistance to both parties in resuming talks as soon as possible.”

Council member Ron Foreman said the city council will maintain a “middle-of-the-road approach” to the situation.

Allen did not want to comment on the matter.

News of the strike has Newton residents Derek and April Blumberg worried that Maytag could ultimately leave town.

“We’re starting to think they’re going to just close down and move to Mexico,” Derek said. “It’s the lifeblood of the community. If they close down it’ll be a ghost town.”

“Yeah, it’s going to be pretty bad if they close down,” April said.

Patti Hayes, a resident of Newton for 26 years, shares a similar feeling.

Hayes said Newton would be a “drive-through community,” one that people pass along Interstate 80 on their way to Des Moines.

News of the strike has her concerned.

“I was really disappointed,” Patti said. “I was hoping they’d come to some kind of agreement so the guys wouldn’t be without work.”

Sheril Long of rural Reasnor has a daughter and sister in the union. She said Maytag shouldn’t be looking to cut union workers’ benefits after recent cost-saving job cuts of 1,100 salaried employees.

“With the reduction they are doing, I feel they need to leave their benefits the same for their remaining workers,” she said.

Despite the bleak situation, an abundance of rumors and lack of information made available, some community members are striving to remain positive.

“We believe the City of Newton continues to have a bright future with many growth opportunities and hope that this issue can be resolved in a timely manner,” the Newton Chamber/Alliance stated in a press release.

“If we stick together, we’ll work it out,” Morgan said. “We’re a good town. We’ll be all right.”

Daily News staff writer Andy Karr contributed to this report.

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