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Aluminum and Steel plant owned by the Maxxam company located in Spokane and Tacoma Washington, Newark, Ohio, Gramercy and Louisiana.

On September 30, 1998, three thousand union steelworkers at Kaiser Aluminum went on strike at five plants. On January 14, 1999, after these workers offered to return to work they were locked out by the company.

Since the labor dispute began, Kaiser has reported net losses amounting to $132 million (4th Qtr 1998, 1st Qtr 1999, 2nd Qtr 1999 & 3rd Qtr 1999).

Instead of agreeing to a reasonable contract in line with industry competitors, Kaiser forced a costly strike of highly skilled and safety oriented union employees and brought in replacement workers and management to operate these facilities.
What you neglected to mention was that the workers didn't offer to return to work until January 13, 1999, after having been on strike for more than two months. It would probably be fair to attribute some of the losses to the strike. Perhaps it makes more sense financially for a company to not keep workers who strike.

Perhaps I'm naive, but if union workers have a right to walk off the job on strike, why should the company, in this case Kaiser Aluminum, have to allow them to come back?

There's nothing wrong with employees organizing, and nothing wrong with them striking. But when you escalate labor negotiations to the level of a walkout, it's pretty pathetic to cry to Mommy (read: US Department of Labor) when the company decides that they don't want to employ workers who are likely to strike.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Like a ski resort full of girls looking for husbands and husbands looking for girls, the situation is not as symmetric as it might seem. Many states are "right-to-work" states where an employer may fire freely, just as an employee may quit freely. ("Right-to-work" being quite the misnomer.) However, quitting is when one employee abandons every other one in the company, and being fired is when every other employee in the company exiles one. Firing or a lockout is much more drastic than quitting or striking, and needs an entirely different legal status; that's why we have laws preventing employers from discriminating on the basis of race, gender, or religion.

It's also instructive to note who wound up in what situations after Hurwitz bought Kaiser with junk bond financing, and then sold and closed factories and cut wages and benefits to pay off the debt. The old owners were richer. Hurwitz was richer. The old workers were fired. And the new workers had lower pay and benefits. And that is why the Kaiser Aluminum story is considered to be bad business, and why unions, the folks who gave us the weekend, are not to be dismissed lightly.

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