Labor Day 2000 started with a party and ended with a prayer for members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) on strike against The Earthgrains Co. in Ft. Payne, Ala. This was the scene as nearly 700 members of Local 611 were joined by their families and friends for Labor Day festivities on picket lines in front of the gates of the heavily secured bakery.

However, this Labor Day 2000 found these Ft. Payne workers fighting for a better quality work life, free from forced overtime and excessively long hours. Workers in this small Alabama town are entrenched in a daily struggle for workers' rights against a confrontational management plan that appears to be designed by the company to decide what is best for the workers, without giving the workers themselves a say. The striking union members have determined that they will not return to work until their demands for dignity, decency, equality, equity and fairness are acknowledged and resolved with a union contract.

Solidarity blanketed the tents set up for Labor Day festivities outside the fenced compound as workers and their families filled their bellies and their spirits on the "holiday" reserved for workers. Picket duty continued throughout the day to impress upon Earthgrains that striking BCTGM members will remain on the picket line for as long as it takes.

This is not your ordinary strike. These are not your ordinary people. Their support is extraordinary!

Two special people attended the event to lend their unwavering support to the striking union members. One, a worker with Multiple Sclerosis and the second, the spouse of a Earthgrains worker, confined to a wheel chair and who also has Multiple Sclerosis. Her husband is a striking union member who is recovering from a recent cancer operation.

The unity of Ft. Payne workers was evident to all as one workers' picket sign touted, "We'll hold this line until hell freezes over, then we'll hold it on ice skates!" Union members munched on potato chips and drank soda while being videotaped by the Company's Huffmaster Security guards. One member noted that a person couldn't even enjoy Labor Day without being "watched" by the company.

Meanwhile, Earthgrains continues its rumors by telling workers in Ft. Payne and in locations around the country where the strike has spread that they are going to negotiate and want to reach a settlement. Yet Earthgrains continues to shuttle replacement workers into the plants in another union- busting tactic designed to force strikers back to work. Workers resolve stands strong and they are not buying the company's hollow rhetoric.

"Earthgrains has always told us how much they cared and how good we are. But now they have proved just how little they do care!" said one striking member of BCTGM Local 611.

"We may be country and we're proud of it but we're not stupid!" said another worker.

The BCTGM Power Person, the union's mascot (operated by union member Joey Chance), who walked the picket line and posed for pictures with the strikers, also attended the event. Additionally, the mascot read the Labor Day issue of the Ft. Payne Strike Journal, a special publication distributed to workers that contained up-to-date strike information and bits of labor history.

In a powerful yet emotional speech to the workers, Larry Aultman, Business Agent of Local 611 said, "We will win this strike because you all are sticking together and so are all our brothers and sisters across the country. Fifteen Earthgrains plants stand with us in solidarity because this company continues to dictate instead of negotiate. They talk settlement everywhere except at the bargaining table. They act like the guy who wants to make bread without yeast and flour. There is only one reason we are on strike and you can point to St. Louis!"

The day ended with a somber and silent candlelight vigil. It was a moving sight beside the busy Alabama highway. Prayers were said aloud and workers openly displayed emotions. Strikers held hands and one by one reiterated their dedication. It was a genuine demonstration of power and prayer by men and women, of all ages and races. Moreover, it was a large gathering of co-workers who are steadfastly proving their solidarity with their feet solidly planted on a main street of Ft. Payne, the likes of which has never been seen in Earthgrains' history.

"This fight is living testimony to corporate indifference and workers desiring to make a difference, for themselves and their children. It is a fight for today but all about tomorrow. It is an epic struggle for workers and peaceful stand, free of violence but full of vigor for their cause, for their children and their future," said BCTGM President Frank Hurt.

Presently there are seven plants that are on strike. Those plants are Ft. Payne and Mobile, Ala.; Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga, Tenn.; Louisville, Ky. and Atlanta, Ga. Additionally, BCTGM members at Earthgrains plants in Forrest Park, Ga.; Meridian, Miss.; Owensboro, Ky.; Dallas, Texas; and Oakland, Sacramento, Fresno and Stockton, Calif. are honoring striking workers pickets.

More union members at Earthgrains plants throughout the U.S. are expected to join the strike as the struggle escalates. BCTGM members are employed in 46 of the company's 65 plants.

For your information on this labor dispute, see under Solidarity Alert.