Title: A Community Newspaper Case Study: The Kraft Cheese Plant Strike of 1987 in Canton, NY Historical Background: In the summer of 1987, contract negotiations between Kraft Cheese and approximately 80 employees at its Canton, N.Y. factory plant broke off. The employees, members of the Aluminum, Brick and Glass Workers International Union, decided to go on strike on August 4, 1987.
This strike forced the closing of the Kraft Cheese Plant and resulted in St. Lawrence County dairy farmers being forced to divert their main product, milk, to other possible sources for usage. St.
Lawrence County is a rural county located in the extreme North Country of Upstate New York State. It had a population of approximately 110,000 people in 1987. During that time, the county featured a mixed bag of economic activities, from the three major industries located in Massena (Alcoa, General Motors and Reynolds Metals) four major colleges in Canton and Potsdam (St.
Lawrence University and Canton College of Technology in Canton, SUNY-Potsdam and Clarkson University in Potsdam) to numerous dairy farms located throughout the county. The average income for a family of four in 1987 was less than $20,000 per year, or below the poverty line average at that time. ... more. less.
The conclusion of the 1987 strike was similar to the 1981 Air Traffic Controllers Strike that resulted in all federal air traffic controllers being fired from their jobs by then-President Ronald Reagan.<br><br> In August 1981, almost 13,000 air-traffic controllers went on strike after negotiations with the federal government to raise their pay failed. That action set off a period in which union activity nationally decreased dramatically. The 1987 Kraft Plant strike eventually resulted in the union at the Kraft Plant buckling to corporate demands.<br><br> The union was eventually decertified by workers at the plant in 1988. Correlation to NYS 7/8 Social Studies Core Curriculum : Unit 11: The Changing Nature of the American People From World War II to the Present I. Postwar Society Characterized by Prosperity and Optimism Suggested Timeframe: One to two class periods.<br><br> Materials and Resources : " Five newspaper articles (attached) o Sunday, August 2, 1987 story from the Ogdensburg Journal and Advanced News. o Wednesday, August 5, 1987 edition of the St. Lawrence Plaindealer.<br><br> o Wednesday, October 28, 1987 edition of the St. Lawrence Plaindealer. o Wednesday, October 28, 1987 edition of the Ogdensburg Journal.<br><br> o Wednesday, November 4, 1987 edition of the St. Lawrence Plaindealer " Student Handouts with questions on each of the five newspaper articles (attached) " ABC News presentation on the 1981 Air Traffic Controllers Strike accessed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5JSToyiyr8 " ABC News Video on Air Traffic Controllers Strike - Student Questions (attached) " A general introduction to the 1981 Air Traffic Controller 9s Strike access at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu12RpQZSzo&feature=fvw " Air Traffic Controllers Strike: 1980 9s Reagan Era - Student Questions (attached) Student Objectives : Students will be able to: " Work in small groups analyzing the reasons why the Kraft Plant strike occurred and why it ended " Compare the effects of the 1981 Air Traffic Controllers Strike with the 1987 Canton (NY) Kraft Plant strike. " Analyze at least two similarities and two differences between the two strikes.<br><br> " Create a written summary that compares the two strikes. Teaching Strategies, Procedures and Methodologies : 1. Begin the lesson with an examination of the Air Traffic Controller 9s Strike of 1981, by showing an ABC television news account of the strike 9s beginning which can be accessed from the Internet at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5JSToyiyr8 .<br><br> Following the video, students should be asked to identify the issue, when it was an issue and who was impacted by the strike. 2. A second video, accessed from the Internet at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu12RpQZSzo&feature=fvw , should be used to introduce the background issues involved the strike, the basic details behind the Taft- Hartley Act, and demands made by the government of the air traffic controllers.<br><br> It is suggested that the teachers review both videos before showing to students. The teacher may find the second video to be a good way of introducing the Taft-Hartley act prior to showing the ABC News story. This second video breaks down the demands of each side in the controversy and includes information on the Taft-Hartley Act.<br><br> 3. Explain that the class will next examine the 1987 Canton Kraft Plant Strike by doing research at five stations around the classroom. Each of the stations will have one newspaper article about the strike, as well as questions that students can answer by reading the newspaper article.<br><br> 4. Divide students into groups of four to five, depending on class size. Position one group at each station and instruct the students to read the article at the station.<br><br> Each group should have a copy of the student worksheet for each station and they should fill in the answers to the questions based upon the reading. 5. Depending on the time allotted for the activity by the teacher, students can then rotate to the next station and read the newspaper article and complete the worksheet associated with the story.<br><br> o If time is limited, the teacher can have the students give a brief report for the class on the article that their group read. o If not, then the students can move from station to station and read each of the five articles and answer the questions for each story. 6.<br><br> As a conclusion to the lesson, students should compare the main points outlined in the two videos to the main points outlined in the newspaper articles. This will lead to the homework assignment, which is listed under evaluation. Evaluation/Assessment: Students should write an essay comparing the Air Traffic Controller 9s Strike with the Canton Kraft Plant strike of 1987.<br><br> Each student should describe two similarities and two differences between the two strikes. The teacher may grade the essay based on the teacher 9s grading system. About the Author: Joe Yankowski is the 7 th grade social studies teacher in the Mechanicville City School District.<br><br> In 1987, Joe was the editor/reporter for the St. Lawrence Plaindealer in Canton, N.Y. and a correspondent for the Odgensburg Journal and Advance News in Ogdensburg, N.Y.<br><br> He won a second place award from the New York State Press Association for his reporting of the strike. Document 1: Ogdensburg Journal and Advance News Sunday, August 2, 1987 Kraft Union Threatening Strike on Tuesday BY JOE YANKOWSKI CANTON 3 Workers at Canton 9s Kraft Cheese plant say they have no choice but to go on strike Tuesday night if the company insists on keeping a proposal the union claims will strip workers of their benefits and make them part-time employees. Negotiations have broken off between representatives of the Canton Kraft plant and Local 419 of the Aluminum Brick and Glass Workers International Union, a move that will result in a strike by approximately 80 union workers Tuesday night at 11:35 p.m.<br><br> The workers, employed in the production, maintenance and laboratory portions of the local plant, will be setting up pickets Tuesday. Negotiations between the two sides came to a standstill Thursday night at 11:35 p.m. ABGWIU Local 419 President George Friot of Rensselaer Falls and ABGWIU Region 4 Director Roy Elberts had been meeting with Kraft officials up until that point.<br><br> The key negotiating point focuses on Kraft 9s demand that the full time union workers be laid off, then hired back on a part time basis. Friot says that such a move would result in a cost savings for the company, but would deny the workers specific benefits such as hospitalization insurance and coverage for doctor visits, surgery, prescriptions and dental care. cThere was no indication that these requests were coming, d Friot said.<br><br> The current one year contact between Kraft and the union expired Friday night. A previously agreed to clause in the pact called for either side to give five days notice in the event of the breakdown of negotiations, Friot said. Negotiations between the two sides opened July 20 th .<br><br> Members of the union decided Friday by a better than two-thirds majority to go on strike. Pickets are expected to be set up at the entrance to the local Kraft plant Tuesday night. Production worker duties generally focus on the production of cheese and whey products, Friot said.<br><br> Laboratory employees focus on quality checks of the local cheese product as well as checking butterfat content of local farmers 9 milk Friot said negotiations between Kraft and the union are strictly local concerns. cWe are a separate plant. We aren 9t tied in with any of the other plants, d Friot said.<br><br> cThere are no national negotiations. d cYou have people who have worked 20 or 25 years for this plant. The company is undermining the seniority rights and job security of the workers, d he added. cI 9m kind of baffled at the attitude of the company. d Kraft officials, meanwhile, have kept quiet on their bargaining position, referring calls to their corporate offices in Illinois.<br><br> Calls to the firms 9 corporate office were not returned Friday or Saturday Document 2: St. Lawrence Plaindealer Wednesday, August 5, 1987 Kraft Workers Hit Picket Lines By JOE YANKOWSKI CANTON 3 Approximately 80 members of the Aluminum, Brick and Glassworkers International Union Local 419 at the Canton Kraft Plant walked out last night after 11 th hour contract negotiations broke off. The strike has resulted in the local cheese producing plant being temporarily closed, local Kraft Plant Manager Lee McCollum said early this morning.<br><br> cWe are not going to be running at this time, d McCollum said. Workers, upset with Kraft 9s demands to be able to lay off the full time employees and then hire them back as part-time or temporary workers, walked out at 11:35 p.m. last night, setting up pickets in front of the Buck Street plant.<br><br> cAnytime you go on strike, you gear yourself for a long one, d said ABGW Local 419 President George Friot. cThis wasn 9t a situation that we wanted but considering the situation, it was one that we couldn 9t avoid. d Striking employees maintained last night that all it would have taken for the walkout to have been avoided was a letter of intent from Kraft revolving around the key negotiating issue. Kraft management, according to Friot, was seeking the right to lay off the 80 full time employees, then hire them back on a part-time basis or not at all.<br><br> Such a move would result in the loss of all benefits, including hospitalization insurance and coverage for doctor visits, surgery, prescriptions and dental care. In addition, all job security as well as seniority, would be lose if the union agreed to management 9s demands, d Friot said. Workers, citing discontent with management 9s last contract offer, voted late last week to walk out.<br><br> It appeared last night that progress was being made toward obtaining that letter of intent to have management drop the issue, but those talks broke off shortly before the strike began. cWe had a belief that we could obtain that letter, d Friot said, noting that two union members had been meeting with McCollum and federal mediator Robert Bowling of the Federal Mediation Conciliation Service in Syracuse. cWe had a couple of members who wanted to talk to the manager.<br><br> If we got the letter, we were willing to go back to the table and talk, d Friot said. cThe manager of the plant expressed what we were looking for, only verbally to our representatives. I told our members to go back and get it in writing.<br><br> Mr. McCollum wouldn 9t put it in writing. d Kraft officials have kept quiet in the past week on the key issues leading up to the strike and they didn 9t change that position this morning. cIt is not appropriate for us to discuss the issues relating to the negotiating process, d said Kathy Knuth, Kraft manager of Corporate Communications.<br><br> Kraft officials are reportedly examining the possibility of hiring non-union workers to get the local plant operating again. According to Canton village police officials, McCollum has been in contact with the department about obtaining police protection in bringing non-union workers across the picket lines. No time table has been given for such a move.<br><br> Canton village police members, ironically, are also affiliated with the ABGW. Local union members do not have a strike fund, although financial support is expected from ABGW International. cThe international will help with the strike fund, d Friot said.<br><br> cWe received authorization to strike from the international before we turned in our contract termination notice. We talked with Mr. Labaff (ABGW International President Ernest Labaff) and he agreed that Kraft 9s conditions are something we cannot live with. d Kraft workers will be running their pickets in shifts of a maximum of 25 union members at a time.<br><br> cIf you get a large number of strikers together, you get trouble, d Friot said. cWe hope this will be a peaceful strike. d Document 3: St. Lawrence Plaindealer Wednesday, October 28, 1987 9:00 a.m.<br><br> Kraft Calls Local 419 9s Bluff BY JOE YANKOWSKI CANTON - Management at the Canton Kraft plant has called the bluff of striking Aluminum, Brick and Glass Workers Local 419 members, saying that officials with the company will begin to hire replacement workers Thursday unless strikers end their walkout and return to work. In a one paragraph press release issued Tuesday afternoon, Kraft Corporate Spokesman Kathy Knuth said that cbeginning on Thursday, we will be interviewing new employees to permanently replace those who have continued to strike. We need more employees than have returned to maintain efficient production levels.<br><br> We would like to have our striking employees return, but if they don 9t, we will have to choice but to hire permanent replacements. Thursday 9s projected move comes just one week after Kraft plant Manager Lee McCollum announced in a letter to union members that the firm was going to reopen the plant Monday. Twenty-five of the 80 members of the union crossed the picket line Monday to resume employment while another 45 members verbally jabbed at those crossing with comments like cGonna Be A Scab. d While the proceedings Monday were generally smooth and calm, Knuth also announced Tuesday afternoon that the firm will be filing an unfair labor practice charge against the union with the National Labor Relations Board in Buffalo.<br><br> Knuth said the charge would be filed cfor engaging in conduct which intimidates and harasses employees who have returned to work, including personal property damage. d Local 419 President George Friot had no comment Tuesday night on the firm 9s decision to replace striking workers. He also declined to say what the union would do in light of the decision. cWe had a hint that this was coming, d Friot said.<br><br> cThey have also said that they were prepared to close down the plant permanently. d Friot stopped short of accusing the company of trying to bust the local union, which was formed in 1985 by a narrow margin, but he did say that cthere is no doubt that they are trying to break us down. d Union leaders had privately predicted that approximately 25 members of the union would cross the picket line Monday, a big number but not one that would allow the company to be adequately staffed to produce cheese. Friot did state that the company was inventing the unfair labor practice charge. : dThey are just blowing smoke, d he said.<br><br> cThey say we are intimidating the employees who did cross. If that 9s so, let them prove it. We would have been arrested if we had.<br><br> It is a lot more of the company 9s baloney. They are just trying to make us look bad. d Knuth, meanwhile, called the decision by local company officials to hire new employees one based on economics. cWe need to have more people to maintain efficient production levels, d she said, declining to say how many people would be hired Thursday if picketers don 9t end the walkout.<br><br> cIt is difficult to say the number of people we are looking for. The whole situation could change in a day or so. We will hire as many as we have to. d Document 4: The Ogdensburg Journal Wednesday, October 28, 1987 12:00 noon Kraft 9s Union Caves In, Quits Strike By JOE YANKOWSKI CANTON 3 A tentative contractual agreement was reached this morning between Kraft Foods and Aluminum, Brick and Glass Workers International Union Local 419, ending a nearly three month old strike at the local cheese plant.<br><br> The agreement comes less than 24 hours after Kraft Inc. announced that all striking employees of the union would be replaced, beginning Thursday. ABGWIU International President Ernest LaBaff announced the settlement at 11:40 this morning, saying simply that cthe strike is over. d LaBaff said that some of the contractual details still have to ironed out between the union and the firm.<br><br> The tentative agreement came following two to three days of constant negotiations between the union and Kraft, LaBaff said. The union leader said that cI stepped into the negotiations. I decided it was time to reach an agreement and time to get the people back to work again.<br><br> LaBaff declined to outline the final proposal that union officials agreed to. Local 419 President George Friot, though, said that the final agreement is based on the firm 9s final offer, with no company movement on the union 9s key issue. Union members initially decided to strike in August over the question of the firm 9s alleged desire to hire part-time and temporary workers and to replace the full time employees.<br><br> Kraft officials have been mum on the matter since the beginning of the strike, declining to publically discuss the negotiations. Kraft 9s final offer, outlined in a letter from local Plant Manager Lee McCollum to the workers last week, will include a 20 cent per hour wage increase, a five cent per hour shift premium and the same benefit program workers had before the strike. cBasically, what we agreed to was what the firm 9s final proposal was, d Friot said, noting that he is relieved that the strike is over.<br><br> cNow I can go to sleep now. d LaBaff said it will take several days before the plant gets back up to full operation, with both the union members who crossed the picket lines and those who stayed on the lines expected to be working in the plant. cWe have agreed that there will be amnesty, d he said. cThere won 9t be any problems. d Document 5 : St.<br><br> Lawrence Plaindealer November 4, 1987 Kraft Strike Ending Fits National Trends By JOE YANKOWSKI CANTON - A St. Lawrence University professor familiar with labor- management negotiations on both a national and local scale believes that the style in which the Canton Kraft Cheese plant strike suddenly ended last week could have a chilling effect on the ability of St. Lawrence County workers to demand higher wages, benefits and job security.<br><br> SLU Government Department Professor Alan Draper believes that the way last week 9s sudden agreement was reached between Kraft Foods management and representatives of Local 419 of the Aluminum, Brick and Glass Workers also fits in with the current national trend of management taking a hard line stance in negotiating with union representatives. cThe workers might now be thinking that the employers will be willing to play hardball and not be as receptive to union demands for job security, d Draper said. cA hardline approach by the employers is part of a national trend. d Draper, chairman of the Work In Society program at St.<br><br> Lawrence that focuses on work-related issues from sociological, psychological, economic and historical perspectives, said the way local Kraft management handled the strike is also indicative of the way strikes are handled on a national level. cIn this case Kraft management didn 9t talk to the press and tried to soften up the membership before threatening to open the plant with scab labor. Both are typical management strategies on a national scale, d he said.<br><br> cIn the long run, what we are seeing is the deindustrialization of the North Country, in terms of Massena, the threat to move the plant out of here and the ability of these large corporations to keep these plants operating under third world conditions, d Draper said. Massena is being hit with the loss of 1,200 jobs there due to the closing of the General Motors Central Foundry Plant there, a two year process of closing the facility down. cUnder third world conditions, there is little job security at these plants.<br><br> They are non-union and highly exploitive of the efforts of the workers, d Draper said. cThe attempt to regain a competitive edge on the international market has forced employers to get tough with unions if that is where the problem is. cAmerican workers are asked to pay the price of remaining competitive on the world market.<br><br> This means a reduced standard of living on the part of the workers in order for the firm to stay competitive, d he added. Locally, he said, the way Local 419 was handled by Kraft management cbodes an ill will for everyone in Canton, especially the merchants, because the purchasing power of the workers will be eroded. d Draper believes that if local residents have any sympathies following the strike, those sympathies should be with the people who struggled on the lines. cThe people working in the plant are our neighbors while Kraft is located in Illinois, d he said.<br><br> cKraft does not have a stake in this community; they can close this plant at any time. cOur sympathies should be with the workers, who spend their dollars in this community and pay the taxes in this community, d Draper said. cCanton citizens should be concerned about making sure that our living standards are protected locally.<br><br> We should be worried about the people who are here and make sure the standard of living is what it should be to entice people to live here and keep the people who are here located here. d Student Handout #1 Ogdensburg Journal and Advance News ; Sunday, August 2, 1987 Directions: Base your answers to the following questions on the newspaper article: 1. What are Kraft Cheese Plant workers threatening to do? 2.<br><br> What were the two reasons given by union members for possibly going on strike? 3. According to the union president, what benefit would Kraft gain from replacing full time workers?<br><br> 4. What did Kraft officials say about the impending strike? 5.<br><br> What two areas of the cheese plant would be affected most by a strike? Student Handout #2 St. Lawrence Plaindealer; Wednesday, August 5, 1987 Directions: Base your answers to the following questions on the newspaper article: 1 Why did Kraft unionized workers go on strike?<br><br> 2. What happened to the Kraft plant when workers went on strike? 3.<br><br> What were the major issues leading workers to strike? 4. What options were being considered by Kraft to re-open the plant?<br><br> 5. What financial options do union members have to offset the loss of their jobs? Student Handout #3 St.<br><br> Lawrence Plaindealer; Wednesday, October 28, 1987 Directions: Base your answers to the following questions on the newspaper article: 1. What is Kraft planning to do in order to re-open its Canton cheese plant? 2.<br><br> When was this offer made? 3. What was the reaction of union leaders to Kraft 9s proposal?<br><br> 4. Why did Kraft threaten legal action against the union? 5.<br><br> What was the reaction of union leaders to the legal action? 6. Why did Kraft want to reopen the plant?<br><br> Student Handout #4 The Ogdensburg Journal; Wednesday , October 28, 1987 Directions: Base your answers to the following questions on the newspaper article: 1. What did Kraft threaten to do to striking unionized workers? 2.<br><br> How did the union members respond to Kraft 9s plan? 3. Why did union members choose to strike?<br><br> 4. What three items did Kraft have in the company 9s cfinal offer? d 5. Who guaranteed the safety of all workers at the plant?<br><br> What is his position? Student Handout #5 St. Lawrence Plaindealer ; November 4, 1987 Directions: Base your answers to the following questions on the newspaper article: 1.<br><br> Who is interviewed in this story? For what group does he work? What is his position?<br><br> 2. In the 1980 9s, what did companies threaten to do to employees who went on strike? 3.<br><br> What two techniques did Kraft use to defeat the striking union members? 4. What three problems do workers at Kraft and the Massena General Motors Central Foundry Plant face?<br><br> 5. Who should residents of Northern New York support in a strike? Why?<br><br> ABC News Video on Air Traffic Controllers Strike - Student Questions Directions: Base your answers to the following questions on the video: 1. When did the strike begin? What was its immediate impact?<br><br> 2. What law did President Reagan refer to when talking about strikes against the public safety? 3.<br><br> What did President Reagan threaten to do to striking air traffic controllers? 4. What four immediate actions did the government take against the union?<br><br> a. b. c.<br><br> d. 5. What strike and which President did President Reagan refer to when commenting on the air traffic controllers strike?<br><br> Air Traffic Controllers Strike: 1980 9s Reagan Era - Student Questions Directions: Base your answers to the following questions on the video: 1.What were air traffic controllers seeking in their contract negotiations? 2. How many striking air traffic controllers did President Reagan eventually fire?<br><br> 3. Name two provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. 4.<br><br> What did labor leaders call the Taft-Hartley Act? 5. List four results of the 1981 Air Traffic Controllers Strike.<br><br> a. b. c.<br><br> d.