Last updated: August 24. 2013 8:56PM - 78 Views

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VAN WERT — If she and her co-workers weren’t locked out of Kongsberg Automotive, Karen Stevens would have started her 24th year with the company Wednesday.Instead, she spent the morning on the picket lines, where she plans to stay until the company agrees not to slash her wages.“We’ve went all these years getting it up to the wage we have today,” said Stevens, who wore an “I was locked out by Kongsberg Automotive” sign. “I’ll stay out here, I guess, as long as it takes.”A contract dispute largely over wages led to employees being locked out April 2. The two sides met Wednesday morning but to no avail. Char Coulter, United Steelworkers union Local 1-524 committee member, said employees offered to take a 10 percent cut in wages if the company would freeze wages for one year. Then, the union would accept that any new jobs created would pay $9. “They would not budge,” Coulter said.Tom Herman, company representative, declined comment Wednesday. The company is giving employees until Friday to sign a contract or face severe pay cuts, union officials have said.The factory, which manufactures automotive transmission parts, has been in operation since 1966. The business, formerly known as Teleflex, employs 330 people. Kongsberg purchased the company last year.Employees, who are making $14.54 an hour, say they deserve to stay there and cannot afford the proposed $9. “Food, gas, everything is going up,” said Keith Callison, who’s been with the company for just a year. His job was previously cut from Kennedy, located across the street from Kongsberg. “Everyone has bills, rent, everything else to pay.”Union officials said they received word Tuesday that the company plans to send 200 jobs to Mexico beginning in July and completing in January. The news didn’t faze employees, who say they have heard the threat before.“We’ve been hearing that for years. It’s always their ultimatum,” said Renee Hartman, a 31-year employee of the company. Hartman waited late Wednesday morning at the union hall for her time to picket in front of the plant. She said with rising gas and utility prices, she can’t afford a cut in pay.Employees are picketing the company, the temp agency supplying temporary workers, and the location where those workers are picked up and brought by bus to Kongsberg. Security guards are stationed in the factory’s parking lot. Because it is a lockout, not a strike, only six people can picket outside the factory at any give time. The employees are working in shifts, with six being at the plant at all times. Callison also isn’t surprised about jobs shipped overseas.“They have not really wanted to work with us or talk to us to see how they can make the situation better.” he said.Employees are not optimistic, and in fact have scheduled a rally for noon June 14 at Fountain Park. Officials hope the community will support them, saying many residents already are. Drivers honked at picketers as they passed the factory.“We are not optimistic at all,” Hartman said. “We’ve been lied to for years and years and years. You can’t trust them.”


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