Union charges plant

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 11, 1999

What started as a simple union rally quickly became ugly Saturday afternoon. More than 100 people pushed open an unlocked gate at Titan Tire’s Kelly Avenue plant and marched inside following a rally marking the one-year anniversary of United Steelworkers of America Local 303L’s strike against Titan.

&uot;I was explaining that they were trespassing when they pushed the gate and pushed by me,&uot; said Bill James, project manager for Vance Uniform Protection Service, which has a contract with the plant for on-site security. The gate had been closed with a chain and an open lock, James said.

Holding union signs high, members and supporters crossed the parking lot, entered the plant and began yelling at plant workers until police convinced the protesters to leave. Many supporters carried children on their shoulders as other children weaved through the crowd carrying pro-union signs of their own.

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The local union members, backed by Steelworkers from other states, faced off with employees inside the plant, taunting them to fight and yelling obscenities.

As union members watched, one plant worker tore a union sign to pieces while another Titan employee was restrained from the crowd by co-workers.

Most workers stood in the doorways with their arms crossed yelling for union members to leave the plant.

The stand-off ended with no injuries, fights or arrests Saturday, but Police Chief Willie Huff said he plans to discuss with Natchez’s city prosecutor this week what charges could be filed in connection with the incident.

Those charges could include trespassing and disturbing the peace, Huff said. Police had received no reports of assaults in connection with the break-in as of late Saturday afternoon.

Huff said the incident could affect whether Local 303L gets parade permits in the future. The union local had a permit to hold a short rally in front of the plant after a Saturday afternoon rally marking the one-year anniversary of the local’s strike against the Titan plant.

&uot;Prior to this permit being issued, I&160;had the personal assurances of the president of the union (Local 303L’s Leo &uot;T-Bone&uot; Bradley) that this would be a peaceful rally, with no violence or violations of the law,&uot;&160;Huff said.

&uot;It could certainly affect any parade or activity permits they apply for in the future.&uot;

But Bradley said the incident, in which rally attendees marched to the plant, then pushed open its gate, was unplanned, calling it &uot;spontaneous fun.&uot; He also said that he did not know who started pushing the gate open.

Huff also said officers received a report that a plant employee had brandished a gun during the incident but that that report has not been confirmed by witnesses.

&uot;And we have to check and see whether it would be illegal for him to have the weapon at the plant or not,&uot; Huff said.

Bradley said Local 303L will file charges against the worker if an eyewitness can be found.

Dave Fines, the plant’s general manager, had little to say about the break-in Saturday.

&uot;We’re discussing at the corporate level what our next actions will be,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;This was definitely a case of lawbreaking, and that’s all I&160;have to say about it.&uot;

Titan Chief Executive Officer Morry Taylor could not reached for comment.

Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Democratic candidate for governor, spoke at the beginning of the rally but left before the end and had no comment about the break-in, said George Shelton, press secretary for Musgrove’s campaign.

Campaign officials for Amy Tuck, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, had no comment about the incident.

District 1 Supervisor Sammy Cauthen, who attended the beginning of the rally but did not speak, said he had not heard of the break-in as of Saturday night.

&uot;I was not able to stay until the end,&uot;&160;Cauthen said. &uot;It was quiet and orderly while I&160;was there.&uot;