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Fresno homeless victory
Norfolk sign - credited to Scott Summerlin

By
Robert Kurtycz, Scott Summerlin and Pat Saunders


NORWALK – “God! What am I going to do?” That’s how Scott Hite reacted when he learned his job was gone. Hite worked for 21 years as an upholsterer on the set-up line on first shift at Norwalk Furniture, the main employer in this community in northeast Ohio. When the work day ended on Friday, July 18, the 515 workers at Norwalk Furniture all thought they would be back at work on Monday. They were wrong. On Saturday morning, July 19, the management at Norwalk Furniture had a statement published in the local newspaper announcing that the plant was shutting down. This was the only notification the workers received.

Norwalk Furniture workers held a meeting at the local high school on July 23rd, inviting local officials to come and speak, hoping to hear good news.  The mayor of Norwalk, argued that the reason for the closing was that we are “in the midst of a perfect storm” for the economy of this country with the homebuilding industry crisis and the foreclosure crisis affecting Norwalk Furniture. “No-one could see this coming,” Lesch declared.

In a gesture of solidarity, workers from Janesville Acoustics, an auto parts plant in Norwalk, went up to the stage. Rob Rhineberger, president of Local 1422, spoke for the delegation. “Our members are here to support you, the mayor said not to be too political, but we feel that the way you found out about what was happening was wrong.” His comment was greeted with tremendous applause and cries of “thank you” from the audience.

But the Mayor’s “perfect storm” was here before July 18, 2008.  It started back in the 90’s with the assets purchase and closure of Eureka Coach, Boxboard Packaging, and later Industrial Powder Coating, all unionized. Janesville has also closed one of their plants here, causing more layoffs. The sale of Geotrac, a new technology company by its owner and closure by the buyer, when there was another buyer who would have kept it open,put more people on the street. This is not a “perfect storm” but a ten year Katrina disaster, whose flood surge has been drowning the dreams of people in the Norwalk area for a long time. Families are living paycheck to paycheck and payday loan to payday loan. Home foreclosures in the area are at levels never imagined. And the banks are cutting the credit, credit that has become a necessity of workers to make it through the month.

In fact, that is exactly what happened to Norwalk Furniture. Comerica Bank has closed all of its banks in Ohio and has demanded that Norwalk Furniture liquidate to pay back a loan. A loan that they were paying! It has refused other investors, and has been demanding full liquidation. More than 50 workers gathered, on their own, and took a bus up to Comerica Headquarters in Detroit to protest. There is still a chance for the workers that the company will reopen. 
Fresno homeless victory

Hundreds of Norwalk Furniture Workers at Community Meeting about
Plant Closing, credited to Scott Summerlin

Along with the news of Norwalk Furniture closing came an announcement that Tenneco is laying off half of its existing workforce. The jobs are going to Mexico, increasing the total job loss at 580.What will happen when another workplace shuts down? Who's job is next to go? There aren't 580 good paying jobs open in Norwalk.  In fact the argument could be made that there are not even 580 private sector jobs left in Norwalk that anyone could live off of at all!  Workers at Norwalk Furniture couldn’t even get through to the unemployment office to file because they were so overwhelmed.

What we need right now is a vision.  How is this community going to provide for its people?  When you read about losing your job in the Saturday paper, how are you going keep a roof over your head, feed your family, or get healthcare?  If our elected leaders didn't see this coming, we better get together and start talking about what is possible.  The vision for our future will come from the workers, not the politicians and the corporations.


For more information contact Bob Kurtycz at ohio@peoplestribune.org





ICE agents

Ice Agents conduct immigration raid on Casa Fiesta Restaurant in
Norwalk, OH Photo courtesy of the Norwalk Reflector


By Pat Saunders,  Scott Summerlin,  Robert Kurtycz

Norwalk: It was a scene that could be part of any B-Movie starring Chuck Norris; ICE Agents clothed in black, scramble from vans that slide to a stop in the parking lot of the Casa Fiesta, a local family owned Restaurant business on US 250 North that has locations in six other northern Ohio cities. The agents swarmed into the local restaurant. ICE Agents and officers from the sheriff’s department and the Norwalk Police Department executed search warrants at the Norwalk restaurant and the other Casa Fiesta stores. In addition, they also raided the owner’s home in Norwalk, taking his wife in custody and then later released her so she could take care of her children. Two workers were taken into custody at the restaurant in Norwalk. A total of 58 workers were seized and taken into detention, including four women, from all of the locations on July 23. At the same time, on the other side of town, Norwalk Furniture workers gathered at a community meeting about the closing of their plant.

An employee of Casa Fiesta interviewed on July 25, said that while he (a second generation citizen) does not agree with entering the country illegally, that it is ironic that so much effort is made by the government to detain folks who only want to work. While just up the road in Milan, Ohio, 65 workers were being laid off by Tenneco, a large US corporation who moved their work to a plant in Mexico and the government does nothing. He said that many of the workers come to the U.S. out of desperation because the trade policies have destroyed the local economy in Mexico. He cited a friend whose farm was wiped out because of cheap grain imports from the U.S. 

Casa Fiesta has become a part of this community in the noble tradition of Horatio Alger — by hard work, good food and good service. They just opened a new restaurant in Norwalk this year and it has a tremendous following in the area.  The question is what will happen to families?  Families where the father has documents, but the mother doesn’t? Or when neither parent has documents but the children are born here?  These families have been a part of Norwalk’s culture and community for more than a decade.  It is up to us to answer these questions. But what happened on July 23rd is not the answer.





This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551, info@peoplestribune.org.
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