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Eramet employees receive benefits

By Brad Bauer,

Unemployment benefits were awarded Thursday to nearly 300 union workers at Eramet Marietta after a hearing officer ruled the two-month-old labor dispute is a lockout and not a strike.

If the dispute had been ruled a strike, the workers may not have been eligible for benefits.

“It’s a blessing, but what it holds for the future is hard to tell,” said Steve Tompkins, 53, of Barlow, a 33-year employee of the company. “There are a lot of guys here with families at home and this is going to help quite a bit.”

Employees are entitled to unemployment benefits from the Aug. 26 lockout date. Those benefits can continue for about one year, union officials said.

Union officials said checks should be mailed this week.

The ruling came a little more than a week after Eramet and union officials met with a hearing officer from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Eramet officials say they plan to appeal the decision.

“We’re certainly disappointed with the ruling,” said Ethan Frank-Collins, human resources manager at Eramet. “The likely impact is to extend the strike and that’s not good for anyone.”

Workers refused to sign an Aug. 26 contract offer that would have frozen pension plans and increased retiree medical costs. Workers offered to continue working under the old contract, in hopes negotiations could continue.

But workers were turned away from the plant after refusing to ratify the contract.

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 for more than 50 years in Marietta under different ownership.

No additional talks are currently planned between the groups.

“The company remains very firm in its position and at this point there really isn’t a whole lot to discuss,” Frank-Collins said. “Today’s ruling is not a victory for anyone and only pushes the sides further apart.”

Jim Deem, local steelworkers union president, called the ruling a morale booster for workers.

“We feel pretty good about this,” Deem said. “We still want to get back to work though. They haven’t got a hold of us but we’re willing to talk anytime.”

Deem said the dispute was ruled a lockout because the steelworkers offered to continue working under their existing contract.

Eramet officials said extending contract talks would “only delay the inevitable,” and mobilized a workforce of salaried employees and contracted specialty workers to continue with production.

Specifically, Eramet’s “last, best and final contract” offer aimed 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.

The company also proposed a pay increase of $1.71 per hour over the life of the next three-year contract.

The average Eramet union worker earns $19.53 per hour.




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