As Kris King works on a house near Muscatine, his mind drifts back to that dreadful day in 2008.
That’s when Grain Processing Corporation locked out more than 300 workers in a contract dispute.
“At first, it was disbelief,” he said.
The ’87 Muscatine High graduate and Air Force veteran spent 15 years at GPC, working his way up to supervisor just before the lockout.
“It was kind of a scary situation,” he recalled.
To this day, King remains a member of UFCW Local 86D.
“I felt that the union was strong enough to handle this,” he said. “And I still believe that they are strong enough to handle to lockout.”
On a breezy Thursday afternoon, Brad Nau is busy with his business, River City Moving and Delivery. After 26 years at GPC, this 49-year-old father of four needed to reinvent himself.
“After you work at a place for so long, you kind of get settled into it,” he said. “You think you’ll retire there. Then all of a sudden, everything changes.”
Lugging household items to a delivery van instead of toiling in the GPC warehouse, he left the union.
“We had mouths to feed, and we just couldn’t sit around and just wait it out,” he said.
These days, a large wall at the GPC plant symbolizes the lengthy lockout. It represents the division between the company and union that changed lives and the community.
“It’s just hard to believe that management and the union couldn’t come to an agreement,” Nau said.
Yet more than four years later, the stalemate continues over job security, outsourcing and other issues.
While locked out workers once played daily card games in makeshift shanties, the unemployment benefits slowly ran out.
GPC continues to make corn-based products for global distribution. They’re committing to Muscatine with major plant upgrades but without a union contract.
“I don’t blame the union at all,” said Nau.
“I think it’s kind of like a teeter-totter,” King said. “The blame could go both ways.”
“The bottom line is making a profit,” Nau added. “And if they didn’t think they could make a profit with what the union was asking for, then they had to make changes also.”
And so, Kris King made a lot of changes. At age 43, he’s going back to school. He’s just a semester away from finishing a business management degree at Muscatine Community College.
An evening Spanish class caps off another long day. Between work at Home Improvement Innovations and school, he usually gets just four hours of sleep.
“Now that I’ve got some education underneath my belt, I kind of realized that there’s a lot bigger and better opportunities out there in this world than GPC,” King said.
As both men forge new careers, there are mixed feelings about the lockout ever ending.
“They’re not looking for long-term employees any more,” Nau concluded. “It’s cheaper to hire a temp employee and not pay benefits. In the end, it hurts the working man.”
“I think there’s always an end somewhere,” King said. “But what that is, I don’t know.”
These guys aren’t waiting any longer to find out.