The War Zone and the United Rubber Workers
Kelly Patrick Ramsey
Keller Graduate School
HR 586 Labor Relations
October 10, 2009
The War Zone: Decatur, Illinois
The city of Decatur, Illinois, is located 50 miles directly east of the capital city, Springfield. The city was named after the War of 1812 naval hero Stephen Decatur, Jr.
Decatur has many tree-lined streets, older restored homes, and historic and downtown areas, and is well known for its industrial, agricultural processing and manufacturing strengths, with vast production facilities for Caterpillar, Bridgestone/Firestone, and A.E. Staley. The corporate world headquarters for ADM, the leading agricultural processor and ethanol producer, is in Decatur.
Decatur’s population is approximately 81,000 and is mostly made up of blue-collar laborers, once mostly union. In early 1994, Decatur became known as the “War Zone” due to the labor strikes that began at A.E. Staley and spread like wildfire to Bridgestone/Firestone, Archer Daniels Midland, and then to Caterpillar. Decatur became a symbol of corporate greed when all four of these employers forced workers out onto the picket line in a drive to break union power.
These four companies were Decatur’s largest employers. As news spread that the Allied Industrial Workers Local 837 were preparing to strike A.E. Staley’s, management took an offensive stance and before the union could organize, they locked them out. Without warning, over 750 union laborers were without work. This began the attack on labor in Decatur.
During this time, only two miles down the road, the United Rubber Workers were working around the clock at Bridgestone/Firestone, stockpiling tires in a 32-acre warehouse. The URW contract was to expire in 45 days and management could foresee that the negotiations would undoubtedly end with a URW strike. They were right. Two months later, over 4000 URW members walked off the job and took to the picket lines.