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John Koontz, one of the organizers of the union at H.J. Heinz, reflected on his years in the union at Heinz and the struggle to establish and maintain it. (UE/Labor 97:15 OH, May 21, 1997)

John Koontz

[I was born] Right here in Pittsburgh. Right on the North Side. Right up here. I was baptized at the church on East Ohio Street, The St. Nicholas. This was our home. Still is, as a matter of fact, even though we are on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. But, we are still here, in spirit. The Heinz Company, that was our livelihood. My father, my brothers and myself. I am the last of them. The last employee. Not to the happiness of the HJ, because of things as they happened and trying to better things for ourselves. Unionize, that was tough. We lost a lot of good people. They just couldn't take it. They couldn't stand it. The different things that happened at the time we were organizing, trying to convince, the fear of the people, the loss of jobs, but we finally did. A long struggle. A few of us held on and we did survive. We did get a union. We could of had a closed shop but the closed shop you would be involved in and be responsible for employees and who you hired and what not. So we settled for a union shop - the union shop where we could actually have a foot to stand on. We had the company union which the company started at the time, and we had to absorb them. Of course, they were a thorn in our side. These were what we called "company people," formed by the company. Later as the days went by and we did absorb. We won hands down. We took without saying "Hey, you were

a company union." We accepted them. They all joined at the time. It was a struggle. Like I say, we all took the various jobs. When we selected our organization, we had to carry the big day book down. Waiting for their dues. A lot of them were fearful they would drop out and yet we come back again up until we met and we had this big day where we had won. This is something we celebrated for a week after that. We were all happy. Of course, the company was unhappy. There were things in the contract that are still there today which still is a thorn in the side to the union. That is the stipulation is they would have their right to hire, fire, promote, and demote. Then again, they were the sole judge of ability which we thought we could, at a later date, get out of the contract because they were abusing it, which they are still to this day that I find out. It's something you have to work on, but again, the predicament of the Heinz growth. They've gotten so big they always remind and they still do today. The CEO, he said "If it wouldn't be for you people, we wouldn't be where we are at today." But that's only a phrase used for what reason I don't know. Charity, where does it begin? It begins at home with these employees that did what he said they did to get them where they are at today. But it isn't working. No. They abused those, retirees, that helped them make it what it is and they are taking away from them which they did as a Christmas gift plus where they used to meet as retirees. That is all eliminated. They don't have that anymore. Whether they'll get it back or not is a question mark, which would be a nice thing as we met with the retirees group downstairs just a few minutes ago. They would like to see it where they could get together. That is all taken away from them. For what reason? We always say charity always begins at home. We are the group that are looking forward to some. Maybe we don't want the world with a fence around it, but in fairness, a company with its growth and with all of these moneys and the buying they are the largest or they are the biggest to buy and sell would like to reap. We would like to have some of that. We would like to share it with the others. It's got to be something.

(Source: UE/Labor 97:15 OH, Interviewer: David Rosenberg, May 21, 1997.)