Originally created 07/11/98

Town is watching strikers



WINNSBORO, S.C. -- Frustration, sympathy, apathy -- all are the reactions in this town that has one of the largest labor union concentrations in South Carolina.

Unions are a rarity in this state and strikers rarer still, so the 2-week-old strike at Hook Up Inc. is drawing attention to Winnsboro, which became a union center when a Mack Trucks Inc. plant moved here in the mid-1980s.

"I think (the striking workers) made a mistake," said Mayor Quay W. McMaster as he smoked a cigar in the board room of Winnsboro Plywood, the lumber company he owns.

The mayor says he dislikes unions, but has a churchgoer's tolerance of their members.

Hook Up workers went on strike last month, saying a proposed three-year contract's wage increases and incentives were too low. The company, which delivers Mack trucks to customers across the country, has cut its union work force by hiring replacements.

Resident Dennis Miller has never been a union member. But the Army veteran has watched the pickets every day on his way to work and says it is "disturbing to me and everyone out here working."

But he can also understand why the strikers are unhappy.

"They felt they were not getting the same treatment as workers at other places, he said.

Paul Morris, chief negotiator for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said the union has rejected Hook Up's latest contract. It would have provided an 8 percent raise over three years tied to performance goals.

Hook Up offered to rehire only 25 of the almost 90 strikers immediately. The others could return as jobs were created over the three-year contract.

Hook Up general counsel Tom Noland said the company's offer is reasonable. It had 106 people working before the strike. Hook Up now has 127 workers.

Mack arrived at Winnsboro under a cloud of controversy. The company was recruited as a nonunion plant, but had to hire union members from Pennsylvania plants. The arrival of union workers made it tough to land other industries, Mr. McMaster said.

Resident Al Matthews does not spend much time thinking about the strike or unions. But he does have an application on file at Mack, where more than 92 percent of the workers are union members.

He has never worked at a unionized company, but "I wouldn't turn down a job."

Over the years, Mr. McMaster said he has slightly acquainted himself with Mack's United Auto Workers union workers. In fact, a councilman is a member, who the mayor admits is "very civic-minded."

"Even though the UAW is supposed to be a militant-type union, we have not had a problem," Mr. McMaster said. "They live here. They are good people."