Custom Hoists threatens to hire replacements for striking workers at Ashland, Ohio plant

Management at Custom Hoists is threatening to replace 70 striking workers at its plant in Ashland, Ohio after workers overwhelmingly voted down the company’s latest offer this past Monday. Company officials are demanding that steelworkers vote again on the offer, which was rejected in a 55 to 15 vote.

Custom Hoists produces hydraulic cylinders for use in heavy industrial vehicles and machinery. It has an estimated annual revenue of $34 million, and is a subsidiary of Standex International, which had a revenue of over $604 million in 2020. Custom Hoists is a global company with another facility in Tianjin, China and operates warehouses and service centers in Europe.

Local 7008 workers picketing [Credit: Ashland County Pictures, Facebook]

The strike began on June 13, after workers at the plant voted down the initial contract negotiated between the United Steelworkers and Custom Hoists by a vote of 66 to 2.

Workers have been fighting for an end to the two-tier pay system, better insurance coverage and improved working conditions. Reports indicate that new hires are paid up to $6 an hour less than senior employees performing the same job.

The issues behind the strike, the repeated rejection by workers of union-backed contracts and the company's demand that workers vote again on the same contract or face strikebreaking operations runs closely parallel the month-long strike at Volvo Trucks in Dublin, Virginia.

After Volvo workers voted down a third consecutive contract backed by the United Auto Workers, Volvo Trucks responded by unilaterally seeking to impose the contract, while the UAW forced workers to vote again on the same contract which they had just rejected. The UAW announced the contract passed in the re-vote by 17 ballots, under conditions where workers widely suspect ballot fraud.

“We believe our last-best offer is well in excess of area averages,” Custom Hoists president Mike Kuharik wrote in a statement. 'We have done the best we can to resolve this labor dispute and remain competitive. We hope union members will reconsider their position.

“However, at this point we are likely at an impasse and have no choice but to hire replacement workers.”

Company officials have refused to release details of the contract offer, only saying that it was the “last, best offer” they would be making.

“What is so sad, and what is so pathetic, and what is so, I’m sorry, but almost unforgivable, is to have a company not listen and just say here’s what we have,” Chise Hines, United Steelworkers local 7008 president, told the Ashland Source.

But despite the determination of the workers to battle for better wages and working conditions, the United Steelworkers has worked to deliberately isolate and starve the strikers. The union has not even mentioned the strike on their website, nor raised support for the strike even among other USW members who are also striking.

While the USW has some $1.5 billion in assets and over $165 million in its strike fund, workers at Custom Hoists have gone without strike pay for the first four weeks and will now begin receiving only about $150 a week.

In the last week alone, the United Steelworkers called off the strike by 1,300 steelworkers against Allegheny Technologies in the northeast US after the union claimed a contract which sanctions hundreds of job cuts was passed by a vote of the membership. However, the USW has refused to release the vote totals.

Over 650 oil and refinery workers in Texas, who are also members of the USW, have been locked out by ExxonMobil for more than two months.

The attempt to isolate workers’ struggles, however, is not limited to the USW, but has become a feature of the union bureaucracy as a whole. At Warrior Met Coal, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) has resorted to thuggish tactics against opposition. The Massachusetts Nurses Association ( MNA ) has refused to provide any strike pay for 700 nurses that walked off in opposition to unsafe staffing ratios.

At the New River Valley (NRV) plant in Dublin, Virginia, Volvo Trucks workers responded to a scabbing operation against their strike by UAW by forming the Volvo Workers Rank-and-File Committee (VWRFC), which was instrumental in mobilizing opposition among Volvo workers and breaking through the union-imposed blackout of their struggle.

The formation of the VWRFC shows that it is possible for workers to break free of the isolation and concessions that have been imposed for decades by the official union bureaucracies. The World Socialist Web Site encourages workers at Custom Hoists to contact us for help building a committee at their workplace, and to reach out to other striking workers in order to connect their struggles.