Tire Slashings in Chula Vista : Vandalism, Violence Mar Strike at 4 Rohr Plants

Times Staff Writer

Violence erupted Tuesday in the second day of a Machinists Union strike against the Rohr Industries plant in Riverside, and vandalism was reported at the aerospace company’s plant in Chula Vista.

At the main Riverside plant, 14 people were arrested and five police officers were injured when some of the estimated 400 pickets tried to prevent management officials from driving through a gate at 6:30 a.m., Riverside Police Officer Fred Kelvington said.

“Rocks, bottles, chunks of concrete, flaming sticks and ball bearings fired from slingshots” were hurled at the officials, Kelvington said. Several car windows were reportedly shattered.

The injured officers, part of a contingent of 25 outfitted in full riot gear, received “minor injuries such as cuts and bruises” when they were caught in a “cross fire” between the pickets and management officials, Kelvington said.


Twelve people, all of whom were described by union officials as employees of the company, were arrested at the scene and booked at Riverside County Jail on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, throwing objects at vehicles, interfering with a police officer and carrying a concealed slingshot.

Two others were arrested during later, Kelvington said.

By mid-afternoon, Rohr lawyers had obtained a restraining order limiting pickets to two at each of the three Rohr plants in Riverside and restricting other union members from coming within 100 yards of the property.

The contract between Rohr and the machinists expired at midnight Sunday, and about 4,500 union members walked out a minute later. Striking workers began mass picketing early Tuesday around plants in both cities.


Rohr employs 5,000 workers at its Chula Vista plant and 3,000 at its Riverside plants. The firm manufactures engine housing parts, thrust reversers and other components for aircraft.

In Chula Vista, Police Chief Bill Winter said that non-striking Rohr employees reported nine flat tires after crossing through a mass of pickets Tuesday morning to get to work. Winter said no arrests were made at the site Tuesday but that the name of one person, seen slashing the tire of a non-striking worker’s car, was being turned over to the district attorney’s office for possible legal action.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Richard Huffman issued a temporary restraining order against Machinists Union Local 755, limiting the union to six pickets at the main gate of the Rohr plant in Chula Vista and to 14 pickets at the facility’s four other entrances. Other union members were ordered to remain at least 50 feet from Rohr property.

Prior to the order, mass picketing by union members caused a major traffic jam around the Chula Vista plant, backing up traffic onto Interstate 5. About 300 pickets marched in front of the plant’s main gate at starting time--around 6 a.m.--letting in only one or two cars, then shutting off access for several minutes before letting more non-striking workers into the plant.

Rohr spokesman Dick Dalton said Tuesday that production was resumed using other staffers and supervisory personnel. An earlier proposal to hire non-union labor to fill the places of the 2,400 striking machinists has not been acted upon, he said.

“We have no plans to hire any replacement workers,” Dalton said Tuesday afternoon. He said the company will expand production with its current, non-striking personnel.

Both Rohr and union spokesmen said they were willing to go back to the negotiating table if asked, but Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Commissioner Clinton Brahm said no further talks are scheduled.

Negotiations broke down Saturday after the company delivered its final offer. A meeting of Machinists Union members in Riverside and Chula Vista on Sunday resulted in an overwhelming rejection of the company offer.


C.L. Williams, president of the Chula Vista local, said Tuesday that company offers on pensions, cost-of-living payments and medical plans were not acceptable to the union membership.

Increased monthly company donations to employee pension system of $21, $22 and $23 each year of the three-year contract period, respectively, are below aerospace industry levels, which have an annual average increase of $25 a month, he said. Medical plans that offered a wholly paid company medical-dental plan but increased employee payments for health maintenance organization plans discriminated against the HMOs, the union official said.

Monday’s walkout was the first at Rohr plants since 1971, when a three-month strike spawned numerous violent incidents, including an assault on a Chula Vista police officer by a former Local 755 president.

During that strike, shots were fired, firebombs thrown and physical attacks made on non-striking workers and police. Williams said union officials will remain in control of the current walkout and will abide by court orders when they are served.

Times staff writer Louis Sahagun contributed to this story from Riverside.