By AMANDA GRAY
THE GOSHEN NEWS
“Keep our jobs in America!” shouted one angry Cequent worker, a member of the local United Steelworkers union.
“Made in the U.S.A.!” shouted another.
Drivers honked their vehicles and members of the community shouted their support as Cequent Performance Products workers picketed along U.S. 33 near the entrance to the plant Monday afternoon.
Local union vice president Deb Hathaway said the picketers — and Cequent workers in general — have felt the support of the community ever since Cequent’s parent company, TriMas, announced Oct. 18 that the production lines at the Goshen plant may move to Reynosa, Mexico, putting around 450 jobs in jeopardy.
“This means a lot to have their support,” Hathaway said. “This doesn’t just impact the 450 workers here at Cequent — it impacts the whole community.”
Many of the picketers have worked for Cequent for several years. Mark Schmanski has worked for the company for nearly 20 years. He said he’s never missed a day of work.
“I was shocked for the first couple of days after I heard (the announcement),” Schmanski said. “Now I’m angry. This building has made millions and millions and millions for this company. I would understand moving the jobs if this was not profitable, but this is just about greed.”
Schmanski said no one from TriMas came down to the plant to tell the workers, but rather someone from the plant’s management made the announcement.
Employees weren’t the only ones on the picket lines Monday. Brendan Mullen, the Democratic candidate for Indiana’s U.S. District 2 House seat, was at the protest alongside USW workers.
“I’m here today because we need to keep Hoosier jobs here,” Mullen said. “For this company with such extraordinary profits to ship jobs overseas is unacceptable.”
Picketer Ed Christie said he has worked for Cequent for nearly 19 years, and his family depends heavily on his income from Cequent. The announcement of the plant’s potential closure was also a shock to him.
“I felt blindsided,” he said. “But I also feel like I knew something was up. The company has seemed evasive for a while.”
Complete with a sign and a loud voice, Christie seemed a through-and-through union man Monday afternoon. He said this is normally not the case, but he felt the need to stand with his fellow employees Monday.
“This is a complete switch. I’m normally not a union person,” Christie said. “But I felt like I needed to stand as one voice with the rest of these people. I’m not against the company — this is about us wanting to be acknowledged. I know at a corporate level, they’re going to make choices based on a balance sheet. They just wouldn’t have those numbers on the balance sheet without us.
“It’s not because we’re not doing our jobs. It’s that they can get more money in Mexico,” he continued. “... I think the quality of product will decline.”
While TriMas’ announcement called the potential move to Mexico a “preliminary recommendation,” with a final announcement coming sometime in November, many employees don’t see a way the company will stay in Goshen. According to TriMas spokesperson Alan Upchurch, the company will announce when it has made a formal decision. No other statements have been made available at this time.
Steven Medford is a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Medford said the steadiest employment he’s seen since he left the Army has been his last two years at Cequent, but he’s afraid that’s coming to an end.
“I think it’s wrong,” he said. “They make enough money off of us, how can they put so many people out of work? My first comment after I heard was, ‘I’m going to lose everything,’ because I have three kids in Texas with their mother, and I send them support and have my house here.
“If I lose my job, I’ll lose everything. I don’t think (TriMas) will keep the jobs here, but we can at least say we tried,” he said, looking around to the other picketers.
National United Steelworkers Union District 7 Sub-District Director Mike O’Brien said he spoke with Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman Monday afternoon. Kauffman understands where the union members are coming from, O’Brien said.
“The mayor is sympathetic to our position,” he said. “He understands the issues very well, but, to be frank, I don’t know how much pressure he can exert on a huge corporation. We’re going to do everything we can to keep those jobs in Goshen.”
O’Brien, who helped initially organize the local USW union, said he hopes people learn from this.
“The people making these decisions must have never read Charles Dickens,” O’Brien said. “It’s like ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and making these announcements right before Christmas is a little bit like Ebenezer Scrooge.”