Written by Bill B. (Portland IWW)
The Sheffield IWW Branch contacted the International Solidarity Commission in late 2014 requesting aid in getting in contact with Marty of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Klamath Falls, Oregon, USA. Klamath Falls organizers are in the process of organizing Jeld-Wen Industries. The Sheffield, England plant had been an independent company, but has since become a Jeld-Wen division due to a buyout. Working conditions have deteriorated considerably since that time.
FW Bill B. of the Portland IWW Branch boarded the Coast Starlight heading south, and as the winter sun sank early in the west, the train made its way through the wild and snowy Cascade Mountains of Oregon. Cell (mobile) phone connectivity disappeared, only to be restored as the train approached Klamath Falls an hour late and just as the hands of the clock neared midnight.
Bill and Marty arranged to meet for breakfast the next morning. The IAMAW was threatened with gun violence by a Jeld-Wen manager while picketing on public property outside the local plant. It perhaps goes without saying that threats of that nature are illegal. Workers at Jeld-Wen receive strong anti-union indoctrination upon hiring and are told that if a union representative speaks with them and they don’t immediately report it to management, they will be fired. Firing for union activity is also illegal. However workers in Klamath Falls are cowed, and feel “lucky to have a job.” It is also a small town, and word gets around.
Dick Wendt, said to be very anti-union, founded Jeld-Wen in 1960. He died in 2010 and his sons began divesting portions of the company. Onex Corporation, based in Toronto, recently purchased a controlling interest in Jeld-Wen and has moved some of its management functions to North Carolina, including its CEO. This was said to be due to the fact that the new CEO did not want to move to Klamath Falls. It should also be noted that North Carolina is much more hostile to union organizing.
A large manufacturing complex remains in the town and is one of its largest employers. Bill and Marty drove around the various factory buildings and took photographs of the plant and its surroundings. These include a golf course. The late Mr. Wentz was very interested in sports and hoped to bring the winter Olympics to Klamath Falls. The Jeld-Wen name was on the Portland soccer (football) stadium for a number of years.
IWW members in Sheffield are anxious to work in concert with organizing efforts in Klamath Falls. Here is to a long and productive association!