Kohler Worker Claims Intimidation Tactics By Union

A worker at Kohler Company’s Sheboygan County facility is claiming UAW Local 833 is using intimidation to pressure him into joining the union.  Joshua Herr told Media Trackers that he has worked in the pottery division for about seven months but has decided not to join the union, an option he has under a Right to Work law passed by Republicans and signed by Governor Scott Walker in 2015. A state appeals court upheld the law in September 2017.

Herr posted on Facebook a picture of a sign hanging by the time clock in the pottery division which identifies him as the only member of the division that hasn’t joined the union.

Herr described to Media Trackers events that led up to the sign being posted:

I told them I wasn’t interested in joining. Then right before Christmas, the union president tried to get people who hadn’t joined yet to join. I told him again I wasn’t interested.  He wasn’t too happy about that. The union steward kept giving me the sign up sheet, I kept saying I wasn’t interested. I just had a call from the union president about a week ago. He again was asking me to join the union and what not. I again told him I wasn’t interested. He replied: “people in Kohler Company don’t take kindly to people who don’t join the union.”

Herr said he is the only employee in pottery who has not joined the union. He said the sign was posted Friday. Media Trackers reached out to UAW Local President Tim Tayloe, who claimed in an email that the sign wasn’t posted by the union:

First that posting did not come from this local. How I know this it do’s(sic) not have the U.A.W wheel on it. Now if something is going on with Josh he should come talk to me I represent all people the same in and out of Kohler. I talked to Josh a month ago when walking through Pottery and talk to him for five minutes at the most. If Josh is saying I pressured him that is totally wrong  on his part. All I talked to him was what the union has to offer and invited him to the meetings shook his hand and went on my way. Have not seen or talk with Josh since then. I’m checking into this today.

Tayloe later followed up with a second email (presented as received):

As an elected representative of UAW Local 833, I am constantly walking the floor of the plant to have discussions with people from the hourly workforce.  These discussions include the benefits of union membership and union representation.  As part of these discussions, the benefits of being a union member are discussed quite frequently.  When I’m made aware of postings, memos, correspondence, etc that are not Kohler or UAW sanctioned, myself along with our representatives remove them as best as we can control.  This posting is not sanctioned by the UAW.  Now if names on this list are not false freedom of speech is legal if I or others like it or not. If you disagree with that statement reading Mr. Herr  fb. Page is no better that was a straight out lie about me. If he or any of our other workers have any questions they are encouraged to reach out to me.

The “scabs” reference in the poster is likely to workers who crossed a picket line during a 32 day strike at Kohler Company in the fall of 2015. The union struck in an effort to end a two-tier wage scale that was put in place in the 2010 contract. The contract that ended the strike didn’t end the two tier system but did narrow the wage gap between the two tiers. Critics argued that in the end the strike was pointless; that the concessions made by the company were only marginal improvements over the proposal the union rejected, leading to the strike.

On the second day of the strike workers marched about a mile and a half from the Emil Mazey Labor Hall to Kohler Company Headquarters. Closed entrances at Kohler company lead to traffic backups into nearby Sheboygan and Sheboygan Falls. Strikers blocked the only company entrance, keeping non-union employees from entering. A Sheboygan County judge would later issue a temporary injunction barring picketers from interfering with traffic near Kohler company property.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that picketers used other tactics as well to disrupt Kohler’s hospitality division, and harass visitors to Sheboygan County who had no vested interest in the strike:

Tuesday, some guests at The American Club, the upscale hotel that company chairman Herbert V. Kohler Jr. opened in 1981, may have canceled their scheduled stays and checked out early.

One woman said that with car horns honking well into the early morning in support of picketers marching just outside, she and her husband were awake all night.

“We didn’t get any sleep,” said the woman, Catherine, who declined to give her last name. “So we went down to the desk this morning…and there were other people down there already complaining about the same thing.”

She said she and her husband have been staying at the resort during the week of Kohler’s Wisconsin Holiday Market for the past 18 years.

“We love it, we absolutely love it,” she said of the hotel, which Herbert Kohler fashioned from what once was a dormitory for immigrant workers.

The hotel is directly across Highland Drive from Kohler Co.’s headquarters and flagship plumbing-ware factory — the main focus of picketing.