I pulled my car into the company parking lot and as soon as I stepped out of the car, 4 security guards swarmed the area and demanded I leave the premises. I identified myself as a journalist, but they told me to go across the street. I noticed one of the guards filming me and I got into the car. Apparently the guard was filming my license plate as well.

I went across the highway and parked my car alongside the railroad tracks. Near me were American flags and a yellow Gadsden flag bearing the statement “Don’t Tread on Me!” A worker came down to the car and told me to follow him. Across the tracks and over an embankment I found half a dozen workers in a makeshift camp. I sat down with them and for the next hour they revealed to me the horrors of what their company was doing.

The workers at Interface Solutions in Fulton, NY had been working without a contract since July 1. On August 13, workers were effectively and forcefully locked out, thrown on the street against their will. Workers on shift were removed by security guards; those not on shift were given a simple phone call and told not to come in to work. Scabs were sent in from out of town to continue with production. They were unfamiliar with the machinery and as such have made an excess of unworkable finished products.

What eventually led up to these abuses stems from a long history at the plant of top-down abuse from management, in particular from the current manager Deborah Morris. Management had been working on gutting retiree benefits, incentive bonuses, health coverage for workers and their families and cutting salaries among other things. Management also decided that if a worker was out for over six months for any reason, then he would be fired; and if a worker was out for over a year because of an injury incurred on the job, then he would also be fired. All of these abusive and anti-worker actions were embedded in the management-created contract (before the contract was canned in August). Not one worker voted in favor of this contract.

Another abuse at the plant concerns health conditions. The plant is filled with asbestos. Prolonged inhalation of asbestos throughout the years can lead to asbestosis, a form of lung cancer. This has lead to the tragic deaths of several workers. On top of this, workers at the plant were forced to eat on the factory floor where asbestos falls on the food and is otherwise inhaled – this against their request to eat in the breaker room where it is safer.

Elderly workers have also been forced into early retirement. One elderly man at the makeshift camp that night was Clarence Seaton. He was forced into early retirement and really did not want to stop working at a job he loved. He had a long family tradition in working at Interface Solutions and he did not want to give it up. The union representative present explained that years ago, it was common for businesses to give easier jobs to workers as they became older, making work more manageable for them. This trend has changed however and it is more the rule than the exception that elderly workers will be faced with either the same work as, say, thirty-year-olds or will be given even more work until management eventually has an ‘excuse’ to fire them. Even though Clarence was fired a few years ago, he still comes to offer advice and to show solidarity with his former coworkers.

With all of these abuses under management’s belt, Interface Solutions Volney Plant, after nearly 90 years of being owned by Armstrong Industrial Specialties Inc., had its shares sold by Interface Solution’s President Frank Fox for 35%. The plant was sold to “unspecified speculators” and the official changeover is planned for October 1. This action has long been in the works by management. (A security guard testified that he was sent to the plant in February to prepare for the eventual lockout).

It did not take long for the workers, all of them members of Local 701T- UNITE-HERE, to organize. Alan Bryant, a union representative based out of NYC, was called in to offer help and lend a hand. Legal actions were eventually taken – charges have been filed on behalf of the UNITE-HERE union workers and their families that the lockout is in fact illegal.

The local community has shown overwhelming support, ranging from those in government positions to fellow working class families, teachers, local businesses and activists. Whenever freight trains pass by the plant and the makeshift camp, the conductor blows prolonged whistles in support. Cars passing on Rt. 481 hail the workers with waved hands and honked horns. (Over 700 honks/waves per hour from passing cars were once recorded.) Roadway and UPS trucks are also in solidarity with the workers – they refuse to enter the plant, so scabs at Interface are forced to drive over thirty miles away to pick up deliveries. Support seems to be growing; however, there has been anti-worker resistance reported – from the hired security guards.

The security guards were brought in to protect the corrupt management at the plant and its unskilled scabs from the plant’s rightful owners – those picketing out front. There is an estimated total of 32 guards, many of whom (if not all) are from out-of-state – even from places as far-reaching as the South (they’re already complaining about the cold). The guards are paid per diem and are living in local hotels.

Besides defending management, their main task it seems is to provoke physical altercations with the workers on the picket line. Video cameras are constantly fixed on the picket line from the building itself and are also in the hands of the guards. The guards’ intent is to get on film a worker pushing a guard, for example, so the footage can be used as evidence and justification to take further action against the workers. They even painted a white line of demarcation at the plant entrance and posted a list of truly inane rules for the workers on the line setting a limit to the use of bullhorns and the amount of workers on the line at any given time to name a few. Even locked out, the workers are still under the watchful eye of Deb Morris and the rest of management.

(It should be interesting to note that Deb Morris fired one of the guards for being “too friendly” with the workers. It turns out that he had talked with the workers on the picket several times about baseball.)

Aside from cheating the workers, Deb Morris is cheating the community. A deal was made a few years ago between the Fulton government and Interface Solutions: Fulton would provide Interface with a certain amount of free generated steam if Interface would provide more jobs for the community. Deb Morris broke the deal the day she threw the workers on the street and brought out-of-area scabs in to take their jobs. As the plant still receives discount prices on steam, Deb is also cheating the taxpayers in the area.

The rifts go much farther than between management and the workers. Union rep. Alan Bryant stressed the fact that the situation is in some ways mirroring the US Civil War in that families are being torn apart. While over 100 workers are on the picket, about 30 supervisors remain in the plant. Quite a few of the supervisors have sons, daughters, or fathers who are on the picket line.

The future of the worker struggle and of the 109 families of the workers on the picket line at Interface Solutions is quite unclear. But one thing is clear: the corporate crimes being committed by management. The workers on the picket line that night, quite a few of them at the plant for decades, wanted to stop playing games that management started. Their simple request was to get their jobs back, accompanied with a fair contract and the truth. If it is truth they seek, then hopefully it is truth that they will ultimately find.

-writing from the Valley of the Mohawk,

Maslauskas