Jean Lincoln, like many of the striking workers picketing their company, doesn’t want to be there.
A utility operator at Ingredion in Cedar Rapids who has worked there “almost 30 years to the day,” Lincoln’s work involves chemically treating the incoming water for the manufacturing process and carefully releasing it back out “so the company doesn’t get hit” with a fine.
But that work, she said—choking on emotions she’s tried to hold back—is apparently no longer appreciated.
“These people”—Ingredion executives who have refused to accept her union’s proposal—”think that we aren’t worth the time and the effort to do these jobs,” Lincoln said. “They think anybody can do these jobs.”
She and others say that because they’ve watched nonunion workers be bused into the facility, breaking the line the BCTGM Local 100-G has held since last week. Beyond environmental and quality issues, workers also openly worried about untrained workers and the volatility or explosive properties of the various components inside the facility.
But it was the way the company just casually discarded them, Lincoln said, that hurt the most.
“It’s like they don’t have a heart,” she said. “They just said we (in Cedar Rapids) are the best company out there—we make the most profits for them. And this is how they thank us?
“I know they want to make a profit,” she added. “Why can’t we profit as well?”
Why are workers striking?
Ingredion workers affiliated with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco, and Grain Milling union, or BCTGM Local 100-G in Cedar Rapids, took a contract vote at 9 a.m. Aug. 1 that all 116 eligible voting members voted down, according to local president Mike Moore.
Nearly all of the workers—114 of them—then voted to strike, said Moore, a mobile supply operator with Ingredion who has worked there for 35 years. The contract and strike votes come after two months of negotiating with Ingredion executives.
At a strike rally there Friday, which featured several candidates for office, Moore laid out what was at stake: While workers labeled as “essential” kept coming to work during the pandemic, getting themselves and their family members sick with COVID in the process, they kept Ingredion in the black.
Now, it seemed company executives had turned their back on that effort.
“You did everything you could to make that company record profits, and in return, they offer you this shit contract,” Moore told the crowd, to cheers. “You guys are in the right, and they are in the wrong.”
The offer from the company, Lincoln said, was “even worse” than in 2004, the last time workers were on strike.
“The contract back then didn’t have as many negatives in it that they do now,” she said.
That included, Moore said, not paying certain tiers of workers what they’re owed, increasing workers’ insurance rates, forced overtime, working on days off and lowering earned vacation time.
“All they want to do is take, take, take,” said Chad Kinseth, a maintenance mechanic for 15 years. “And we’re not gonna take it, and I hope they understand that.”
How long will the strike last?
Workers overall weren’t very optimistic Ingredion executives would want to come back to the bargaining table quickly. Kinseth attributed that to the company’s “high esteem of themselves.”
“They’re Ingredion, and their reputation is everything, and they were willing to throw money away to salvage their reputation,” Kinseth said. “Them coming to the table early would just sully their reputation, as far as I’m concerned.”
But he said workers were willing to stick it out as well: No one could afford a pay cut, or their jobs cut—Ingredion planned to eliminate five lab testing jobs, including the job held by Ian Dwe, who has been with the company for 17 years.
“We’re more than just me, and this guy, and that guy. There’s wives and children and grandchildren behind all this,” Kinseth said.
And there were Democratic candidates, too, who spoke to the crowd at the rally with similar messages.
“We want these organizations and businesses throughout this state to make money, but I’ll tell you this: They’re not going to do it at the expense of you all,” said Deidre DeJear, running for Iowa governor.
“You’re not asking for a lot. You’re just asking for what you deserve,” added Liz Mathis, running for US House.
She pointed to the UAW strike at Deere and Co., which eventually resulted in workers securing 10% wage increases.
“Look at their outcome—you need an outcome just like that,” Mathis said, to cheers from the crowd.
By Amie Rivers
Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can contribute to us here. Follow us on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.