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Eramet contract rejected

By Brad Bauer,

Times file photo

An aerial view of the Eramet plant in 2005.

Proposed changes to retirement programs and health benefits remain a sticking point at Eramet Marietta where picket lines will continue today after union workers voted down a second contract offer Wednesday.

Nearly 300 union workers at the alloy plant have been off the job for the past 103 days.

“The body has spoken twice and said that they are not satisfied with what is being offered,” said Denny Longwell, staff representative of the District 1 United Steelworkers Union. “We hope that’s starting to get through to the company.”

Longwell would not say what the vote total was. He did say 242 of the union members cast their ballot.

“These workers are due something that’s fair and equitable,” Longwell said.

About a quarter of the union force is within a few years of retirement. Approximately 25 have retired since the start of the labor dispute. The workers contend the proposed changes to medical costs will consume nearly all of retirees’ monthly pensions.

Back in August, workers voted down the new contract that would have frozen pension plans and left employees the option of enrolling in a modified benefit plan of $30 per month for each year of service (plus what the worker has accumulated through the end of 2006), or the option of enrolling into a 401(k) plan with a dollar for dollar match, up to 5 percent.

Eramet officials say the concessions in medical costs and retirement are necessary to ensure the long-term viability of the plant. The specialty metal plant has operated in Marietta since 1951, first as Union Carbide, but since the 1970s under different ownership.

Eramet union workers earn an average of $19.53 per hour. As part of the new contract, the company proposed a pay increase of $1.71 per hour over the next three years.

“We are interested in preserving the viability of the plant and keeping good paying jobs in this community,” said Ethan Frank-Collins, human resources manager at Eramet. “Obviously, the union is not interested in that.”

Frank-Collins said the contract offer voted down Wednesday offered a 51/2 percent match for its 401 (k) plan, and modified caps for retiree medical costs.

“There are no winners in a strike. It is detrimental to all parties involved,” Frank-Collins 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.

There are no new talks scheduled.

Eramet has called the dispute a labor strike, while the union has called it a lockout by the company. Last month, a court ruled the dispute is a lockout, helping to clear the way for the workers to collect unemployment benefits.

Eramet at a glance

Eramet Marietta, owned by a French-based firm, is the lone domestic source of ferromanganese, an alloy that improves steel. The French-owned company sells about 35,000 tons of the material a year and employs about 400 people.

The plant, along Ohio 7 between Marietta and Belpre, opened in 1951 as part of a huge Union Carbide complex that was divided and sold in the 1970s.

Eramet union workers earn an average of $19.53 per hour.





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