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Union work stops at Eramet

By Brad Bauer, bbauer@mariettatimes.com

Eramet workers wave to passing motorists at the picket line Sunday near the entrance to the plant's Ohio 7 location.
BRAD BAUER The Marietta Times

United Steelworkers at Eramet Marietta rejected a proposed labor contract Saturday, and now 290 workers consider themselves “locked out” of the Ohio 7 plant, which is continuing operations with salaried personnel, union members said.

Denny Longwell, staff representative of the United Steelworkers Union, said plant employees offered to continue working under an existing contract as bargaining negotiations continued.

The company’s three-year contract with local USW 1-00639 expired at midnight Sunday.

“We went to work at 11 p.m. Saturday and we were met at the gate,” Longwell said. “They told us we were on strike and I told them we weren’t on strike — that our contract was still in place until midnight and that we were willing to work. The only thing that we needed to know was what the pay rate would be.”

“We were there ready to go to work and they said no.”

Eramet Human Resources Director Jerry Jenkins, who has led the negotiations for the company, said the group has worked hard to come up with a contract that would help ensure the long-term viability of the plant opened more than 50 years ago along Ohio 7 between Marietta and Belpre. He said he was disappointed the union members voted down the contract.

Jenkins confirmed the group did offer to continue working under their old contract.

“We didn’t want to continue operating under the old contract, because it was our objective to make changes in that contract,” Jenkins said. “They rejected those changes.”

Jim Deem, local steelworkers union president, said Eramet is aiming to freeze workers’ pension plans, cap insurance for retired workers and to raise current employees’ out-of-pocket medical expenses by as much as 85 percent.

“You’ve got to draw a line somewhere,” Deem said.

Deem declined to say what the final union vote was on the contract proposal.

“A good majority were against it,” Deem said. “It wasn’t close.”

Whether the dispute is labeled a strike or a lockout may seem like a moot point to some as workers find themselves in need of unemployment benefits. Such was the case in Monroe County at the Ormet plants, where steelworkers workers were ruled to have been locked out of that facility during a 20-month labor dispute that ended last month.

Ken Neville, 56, of Marietta, a 24-year employee of Eramet, said he voted against the new contract. He said employees made several concessions in their last contract and since then the company has made record profits.

“We deserve a decent wage and a decent retirement,” Neville said.

The labor dispute at Eramet is the first since 1985, when members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic workers walked off their jobs for three weeks. At that time, the company was owned by Elkem. Eramet, a French-owned company, took control of the plant in 1999.

“We’ve enjoyed a very good relationship with the unionized workforce at this facility throughout our history and even though we’re experiencing a strike now, we’re continuing to do everything in our power to preserve that relationship so that we can all get back to work as soon as possible,” Jenkins said in a written statement.

Eramet officials said as of Sunday there are no talks scheduled to take place between the groups.

For over 50 years, Eramet’s local plant has produced manganese and other special metal products used by the steel, aluminum, superalloys and specialty steel industries. Eramet Marietta is one of the largest producers of these products in the world, according to the company.

On the Net: www-erametmarietta.com

 

 

 

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