Gunite workers end year still on picket line

Alex Gary

Six weeks ago, Jeff Wubben of Freeport and Charles Mathis and Ignacio Maynes of Rockford barely knew each other, except for occasional hellos at the Gunite Corp. foundry.

Now the trio is pretty tight, thanks to the 45-day lockout at Rockford’s longest continuously running business. They are part of a rotation of workers picketing the century-old Peoples Avenue plant around the clock. Their set times are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and 11 p.m. Thursdays to 5 a.m. Fridays.

They were there New Year’s Eve, too, right on schedule.

Used to working 60 hours a week because they said the plant was severely understaffed, they stood around trying to find things to talk about and to stay warm.

“Today’s big subject is firewood,” Maynes said Monday. He had been working at the plant for three months when Gunite Corp. parent Accuride ordered the United Auto Workers Local 718 locked out Nov. 18, saying union officials wouldn’t allow a vote on the company’s final contract offer. “We just have a little bit left, and we’re trying to figure out where to get more.”

Of course, when they aren’t picketing, the three have even more time on their hands than they are used to.

“I’ve been doing some remodeling and spending a lot of my time with my kids,” said Wubben, who has worked for Gunite about 2½ years. “Working here, you work so much overtime, you miss out on a lot.”

Wubben said spirits are up for most of the workers: “We kind of knew this was coming, so a lot of us put money away just for this reason.”

Although working at Gunite is a grueling job and they still have 4½ months of unemployment pay to draw from, Wubben, Mathis and Maynes would like to go back to work. The fact that the UAW and Accuride have talks scheduled this week for the first time since the lockout started is encouraging, but Mathis isn’t overly excited.

“I’m not going to believe anything I hear until I hear it directly from our union leadership,” said Mathis, who has been with Gunite for 10 years.

Even though it was New Year’s Eve and they were searching for interesting conversational subjects, one that hadn’t come up was New Year’s resolutions.

“I make it a point to never make New Year’s resolutions because they are basically lies you tell yourself,” Mathis said. “You are just trying to make yourself feel good about the year if you didn’t do anything.”

Assistant Business Editor Alex Gary may be reached or 815-987-1339.