It’s barely December, but one Aurora company is already being called a scrooge.
Employees of ATMI Precast, which produces precast concrete products for homes, took to the streets of Aurora Thursday and urged the company to have a heart this holiday season.
Workers joined by several activists marched from the near East Side to the plant on the near West Side to bring awareness to steep wages cuts by ATMI. They also said they were frustrated with the company’s unwillingness to collectively bargain.
“They are asking him to respect the humanity of his workers, and to bring the workers back to their jobs at a fair wage before Christmas,” said Mary Shesgreen, who along with other members of Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, came to support the ATMI workers. “We’re here today to say that the way that the workers have been treated stinks… It’s not eloquent, but it’s true.”
About three dozen laborers, their families and supporters marched from the parking lot of Plaza Mexico, 700 E. New York St., through downtown, then to ATMI Precast at 960 Ridgeway Ave. Joining in the march were members of the Chicago Worker’s Collaborative, Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, MoveOn.org, and Occupy Aurora.
“What we’re looking for is fair treatment at work,” said Fernando Yanez, an ATMI Precast employee. “We’re humiliated every day and we’re not going to take it anymore,”
The lock out begins
On Nov. 14, about 150 employees were notified that they had been locked out from ATMI Precast after contract negotiations between the workers and the company had come to an impasse.
Workers have been called back to work this week without any of the requested concessions and were told that if they refuse to return to work by Friday, they will lose their jobs permanently.
“The company wants us to come back to the same position, to the same low pay, but what they don’t understand is that now we’ve been out of work for three weeks,” said Yanez. “ATMI’s owners didn’t care that we had nothing on our table for Thanksgiving. They left us in the cold.”
The lockout came after employees requested the right to union representation and the restoration of a 20 percent pay cut imposed more than two years ago. A final offer from ATMI included a 5 percent increase, but workers said that some employees have been with ATMI for 20 years and only make near minimum wage.
Last month, Paul Carr, ATMI chief operating officer, said contract negotiations had been ongoing since March 2010. Carr said the company made significant compromises, but the employees voted down ATMI’s final offer, which included the wage increase.
Company officials could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
ATMI employees recently voted to join Teamsters Local 673, which represented the employees through negotiations this fall, but had not yet signed a contract.
“They have the right to negotiate as a group with the owner for better working conditions,” said Tim Bell, who came from Rolling Meadows on Thursday to support ATMI workers. “The employees feel like they’re not respected. They feel like the atmosphere is hostile and full of intimidation.
“What this all comes down to is that they just want to be respected.”
‘We’ll be back’
Leon Bicchieri, executive director of the Chicago Worker’s Collaborative, stood outside the plant — “in the shadow of Mr. Armbruster’s empire” — on Thursday afternoon and shouted through a loud speaker for ATMI President and CEO Jim Armbruster to come out and speak to the marchers.
Employees inside the building peeked out windows and doors as the protesters raised the volume on their complaints. Security guards ushered sign-holders off the grass and onto city-owned sidewalks amid the peaceful protest.
“These CEO’s forget that these people helped get them what they have,” said Sandy Nickerson, who said she was representing Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice at the march.
Nickerson, holding a sign that equated Armbruster with Scrooge, said that ATMI workers deserve a living wage, and to be able to send their kids to college, too.
“Don’t be a coward,” Bicchieri shouted. “You don’t even have the guts to talk to your workers.”
Shesgreen said the reluctance of company officials to deal with the workers convinced her to keep up the protest.
“We will be back here again and again until workers don’t just have jobs, but have living wage jobs,” she said.