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New talks coming in Eramet dispute

From staff reports

Labor negotiations are expected to resume this week between Eramet Marietta and nearly 300 United Steelworkers, who claim they’ve been locked out of the Ohio 7 plant since Aug. 26.

The two sides have met twice since pickets went up at entrances to the plant between Marietta and Belpre.

“We’re just about at the same place we were last week. The company still isn’t willing to make any changes to the contract,” said Jim Deem, president of USW Local 1-00639-01.

Workers have been on the picket lines for seven weeks. Meanwhile, about 20 workers have found work elsewhere, Deem said.

“We do have some people finding work elsewhere and we have no problem with that,” Deem said. “They’ve got to find a way to make it out there. I don’t know if their plans are to come back when this is over or not.”

The dispute is rooted in proposed changes to pension plans and retiree medical costs.

Ethan Frank-Collins, human resources manager at Eramet, said the company is working toward a Wednesday meeting, though a time and place has yet to be finalized.

“We’re certainly hopeful we can find a resolution to the situation as quickly as possible,” Frank-Collins said. “It’s hard to imagine going six weeks without a paycheck and we’re eager to get our workforce back as quickly as possible.”

“I hear people concerned that the plant is going to close; I don’t see any basis for that concern. The plant is running well and can be a profitable operation.”

Eramet officials, who call the dispute a strike, have said the concessions in medical costs and retirement are necessary to ensure the long-term viability of the plant. The specialty metal plant has operated for more than 50 years in Marietta under various owners.

The company plans to freeze pension plans, leaving 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 workers can opt into a 401(k) plan with a dollar-for-dollar match, up to 5 percent.

Deem said no meeting between his group and Eramet officials has been set.

“I’d expect it will be sometime before next week,” he 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.




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