- Associated Press - Friday, November 27, 2015

MILWAUKEE (AP) - A union official said Friday that Kohler Co. workers plan to strike through the holiday weekend and remain united in their desire to do away with a two-tiered pay scale that they say unfairly limits newly hired employees to about $13 an hour.

Union spokesman Pete Behrensprung said Kohler workers represented by United Auto Workers Local 833 have been picketing “around the clock since Nov. 15” at the company’s Sheboygan-area headquarters, including the rain on Thanksgiving and that they would continue to do so until their demands are met.

The strike has idled about 2,000 production employees at the plumbing-ware foundry in the Village of Kohler and at a generator plant near Sheboygan. Behrensprung said the workers haven’t heard anything new from the company and that no new negotiations have been scheduled.

Kohler’s president and CEO wrote a letter to the Sheboygan Press on Wednesday, saying the workers’ demands would lead to job cuts.

“If the two-tier wage structure disappears, so do the local manufacturing jobs,” David Kohler wrote.

Kohler said the 2,000 local workers make up about 6 percent of the company’s worldwide workforce, and that if profit were the company’s main driver, “there would be no manufacturing here at all. The savings of moving production out of Sheboygan County would be that significant.”

Company officials didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Friday. Kohler makes kitchen and bath fixtures, small engines and generators, and manages resort destinations.

The Kohler manufacturing operation is one of 13 in the U.S. and 48 across the world, many of which are larger and equally productive, Kohler wrote. But he said the company maintains its presence in the Sheboygan area because “it has been run by four generations” of area residents and remains committed to the region.

The company has said the contract it offered union workers was fair, a position Kohler repeated in the letter.

Workers generally want higher pay and lower health care costs in addition to ending the two-tier system, which they say doesn’t pay a living wage to workers with less seniority and caps pay regardless of the type of work employees perform. About 20 percent of the local union workers receive lower tier pay.

“The higher tier is fighting for the second tier,” Behrensprung said.

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