Year’s been tough, but strikers count their blessings

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 2, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 2, 1999

GRAMERCY – Thursday marked the first anniversary of the Kaiser Aluminum walkout, and it’s been a tough year for the steelworker union members.

At Local 5702’s hall for United Steelworkers of America in Lutcher, Tony Falgoust, 58, a 30-year Kaiser employee, said of the strike’s impact, “We eat and pay our bills and that’s about it – and that can’t go on forever.”He continued, “Appliances break down and you do without. The dishwasherbroke down last week. We do without it.”Married for 35 years to Betty, the Vacherie residents have two sons, a daughter and six grandchildren.

“My wife says she’s on strike like I am,” Falgoust commented. “She’s veryunderstanding. She puts up with me, she’s got to be understanding.”Falgoust, a clarification control operator who until the strike pulled in $15.50 an hour, observed, “We’ve been poor before, but I didn’t want toretire poor. Hopefully, I could have been taking it a little easier by now.”Wayne Alexis, 47, of Lutcher, said the impact of the year-long strike has been tough on him and his family. However, as minister at FirstCommunity Antioch Baptist Church, he thanks God for the strength to carry on.

“That’s kept me focused,” he said.

Alexis, on the Kaiser scaling crew and pulling in $47,000 a year, said his annual income has plummet to “about $10,000.” He has been married 26 years to his wife, Yvette. She is a specialeducation teacher, and they have two sons. One is a 10th-grader at LutcherHigh School, and the other is a freshman at Southern University in Baton Rouge.

“It’s been very trying,” he admitted, saying they are keeping enough money coming in to pay tuition and the household bills. “It’s pulled us a littlecloser, familywise.”However, he has seen much among the other steelworkers, as he and David Becnel serve on the Strike Defense Committee, which serves as a sounding board for problems among the families. He also disperses money from theinternational union headquarters to the 354 strikers and administers the emergency fund to assist distressed striker families.

“We’ve had some car accidents, and we have given 100 percent,” Alexis said. “Once, we had a wife who had to go to the emergency room and wetook care of that as well.”The fund assists with such emergencies and, he continued, “We’ve never turned down anybody.”The nine picket teams walk 12-hour shifts on the picket lines, on a four- day rotation. “Some of the best cooks you want to meet are right here onthe picket line,” Alexis said, smiling as he discussed the brotherhood and camaraderie of the union members.

Life has been lean for the striker families after one year out. To the good,he noted, “To my knowledge, there has been no divorce or separation.”The biggest concern of the striker families are the children, Alexis said.

“The kids are our hearts, and we don’t want to break the spirits of the kids,” he said.

“All of us have made major adjustments. We count our blessings a littlemore regularly.”

Return To News Stories