Sun, Jun 13, 2004 - Page 2 News List

American hunger strikers protest lockout

GRIEVANCES The protesters said their hunger strike would continue until the Koo Group agrees to negotiate over revised contracts at an Oklahoma-based subsidiary

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

Five Americans held a hunger strike outside the offices of Taiwan Cement yesterday to draw attention to their grievances with the Koo Group.

The protesters were employees of Continental Carbon, an Oklahoma-based subsidiary of the Koo Group, until a lockout three years ago revoked all employment contracts pending workers' agreement to new contracts that would have made union membership impossible.

"This is the longest lockout by a foreign corporation in US history. The lockout has been widely published in the US and it is damaging to the reputation of Taiwan," said Joe Drexler, director of special projects at the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers' International Union (PACE).

Drexler, who also took part in yesterday's protest, explained that the three-year lockout had begun when 86 Continental Carbon employees had refused to sign the revised employment contracts, which involved salary cuts, the elimination of pensions and curtailed union participation.

The group said yesterday that the hunger strike would continue until the Koo Group agrees to negotiate with the union.

The protesters -- three former Continental Carbon employees and two union representatives -- are also calling on the company to take responsibility for air and water pollution which they say was caused by the Oklahoma plant.

"Carbon dust comes from the plant and falls on nearby homes. [The substance] is listed as a cancer-causing agent by the Association of Research on Cancer," said Rick Abraham, another protester.

Abraham said the air and water pollution also affected nearby native reservations.

PACE, the Pomca tribe and five other individuals have already brought two lawsuits have against Continental Carbon, he said.

"We are challenging their permit which allows them to dump so many tonnes of the substance each year. It's a weak permit and it does not protect the people," Abraham said.

He said that the carbon dust pollution was hazardous to individuals living in the area.

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