NILES - With the holiday season and cold weather closing in, striking steelworkers at Phillips Manufacturing might be feeling the pinch, but passers-by hearing their chants and cheers Wednesday afternoon probably wouldn't know it.
''From the time the company came here, they wanted a five-year wage freeze, which we gave them,'' striking United Steelworker and 31-year plant employee Jim Nichols said.
Phillips took over operations at the Walnut Street plant about a dozen years ago. Nichols recalled the plan was to help the new owners get off to a good start with promises that workers would be rewarded in the long run.
''Every contract since then has been 'gimme, gimme, gimme,''' Nichols said. ''It's time that we start the 'gimme, gimme' for a change and stop the greed.''
Nichols was among 40 or so workers who walked out in mid-September after attempts to reach a new labor contract failed. Wednesday, union members from other United Steelworker locals, United Auto Workers, IUE-CWA and others marched to the plant and then rallied in a show of solidarity for the pickets and against replacement workers being used inside the plant.
Criminal charges brought against plant management for the company's use of replacement workers are pending in Niles Municipal Court. A Niles ordinance bans the use of replacement workers during work stoppages within city limits. The company's attorney has entered a "not guilty" plea, and a pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Nov. 16.
Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda, who served many years as a Niles Ward Councilman, joined Wednesday's rally and expressed frustration that the case is moving slowly.
''If you let it drag on until the strike is over, what's the use of having the law?" Fuda said.
United Steelworkers negotiator Dennis Brubaker said talks remain at a standstill. He has been in contact with a federal mediator, but so far that has not produced any progress. He said the union's next plan of action is to contact the company's customers to inform them about the strike and replacement workers.
Brad J. Garlock, Phillips human resources director, declined to comment on negotiations.
"We continue to work with the conciliator in this regard, and remain positive and hopeful that agreement for a new collective bargaining agreement is possible," he said.
Phil Frazier, a 25-year employee of the plant, acknowledged that times are tough. Paying high fuel prices to drive often from his home in Hubbard Township to the picket line is taking its toll. Still he was among workers vowing to outlast the company by one day in order to get a desirable contract.