By Marilyn Odendahl, Truth Staff

ELKHART -- The Vincent Bach union and Conn-Selmer will try again to reach a labor agreement during contract talks that are scheduled to resume Wednesday.

Whether the United Auto Workers Local 364, which represents the workers at Vincent Bach, and Conn-Selmer, the parent company, will be more successful this time at finding a common chord is unknown.

"In my opinion, if it's going to get settled, they're going to have to give," said union president Jerry Stayton. "We've given already."

Since the strike began, Steinway Musical Instruments Inc., parent company of Conn-Selmer, has declined to answer questions about the contract it proposed and the talks with the union.

Vincent Bach workers have been picketing in front of the manufacturing facility on Industrial Parkway after rejecting the company's contract offer on April 1. Union members say they voted to strike primarily because of language in the proposed contract which, in their opinion, would have turned the operation into a dictatorship.

Of the 1,884 employees in the United States making band instruments and pianos for Steinway, about 60 percent belong to a union, according to the company's 2005 annual report. The union at Vincent Bach, with 234 members, is one of the largest in the Steinway corporation.

Vincent Bach went on strike in the early 1990s but settled after eight days.

The most recent strike Steinway experienced was in 2003 at a Conn-Selmer facility in Eastlake, Ohio. Like Vincent Bach workers, the members of that union, UAW Local 2359, walked off the job over cuts in wages and benefits as well as changes in language in the proposed contract, said Bryant Harvey, union shop steward.

About two months later, the strike collapsed when workers began crossing the picket line and returning to work. Harvey could not explain what happened, saying the workers "crossed for their own personal reasons."

The last contract Conn-Selmer negotiated was in July 2005 with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local M94 at the Frank Holton Co. in Elkhorn, Wis. Union President Vicki Freitag said contract talks took place with the union knowing some of its members "just couldn't afford to strike" and while keeping in mind the possibility that Conn-Selmer could move the production lines to another facility.

The final contract did not turn out "too badly" for the workers, said Freitag. "I mean, they could have hit us a lot worse than they did. It's just manufacturing in general is having a tough time right now."

Workers at Vincent Bach say the plant supervisor, Mike Hall, and Conn-Selmer President John Stoner Jr. have repeatedly "threatened" to move production lines out of Elkhart to manufacturing facilities in China.

"They're so proud of being made in America but they've threatened our jobs all the time," said Barb Havens, who has 26 years at Vincent Bach.

A request on Tuesday for an interview with Stoner and Dana Messina, Steinway president, was denied.

At the Eastlake facility, Harvey said management does not talk about moving production. "We have no manager telling us that anything is going overseas," he said.

In Elkhorn, managers don't come right out and say anything about outsourcing but they, along with the union, acknowledge competition from foreign -- particularly Asian -- musical instrument makers. "The Chinese scare us but at the same time, their quality isn't anything near ours," said Freitag.

The Frank Holton Co. has built its reputation on making professional-model French horns.

Speaking from her home in Wisconsin, Freitag said her union members are aware of the strike at Vincent Bach and they support their brothers and sisters in Elkhart.

"We're behind them," she said. "We hope the best for them."

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