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Eramet families wait, hope

By Diana DeCola, ddecola@mariettatimes.com

Talks planned

Eramet and United Steelworkers Union representatives planned to meet at 1 p.m. today to continue negotiating on a new contract.

While the negotiations continue for Eramet and union workers, family members say they have found support from each other to make it through an emotional time.

Becky Henke, 57, of Boaz, W.Va., said that while her husband, Ralph, is involved in the labor dispute, everything is a big question mark.

“It’s very uncertain and you can’t plan anything,” she said. “It’s like your life is on hold and it’s scary at our age.”

Ralph Henke, 59, has put in many years with the company as have many of his co-workers. But, now, their futures hang in the balance as the two sides continue to fail at resolving the issue.

The lockout began at the end of August. Thursday, the company and the union held another negotiations session. But after almost five hours, they could not come to a resolution. Today they are scheduled to meet again at 1 p.m. to continue discussions.

In the meantime, many of the wives of the employees have started a women’s support group and have found ways to keep up morale. Karen Brown, wife of Steve Brown, said the support from fellow workers and their families has helped to ease the anxiety.

“I can’t go out and financially support us, but I can support him emotionally,” Karen Brown said.

Both she and her husband agreed that through the hardship they have made friends with people they never knew before. Saturday they sat among half-empty crockpots of home cooked food at the Union Hall on Blue Knob Road not far from the Eramet factory along Ohio 7 between Marietta and Belpre. They had just finished serving lunch to the workers on the picket line.

“It’s not a good thing but it’s brought them closer,” Karen Brown said.

Steve Brown agreed.

“Seven months ago, I couldn’t tell you their names,” he said. “I didn’t know half of them I know every one of them by name now. We’re like a big family now.”

Ethan Frank-Collins, director of human resources for Eramet, said resolving the dispute quickly is better for everybody and he hopes they will be able to do so. He said there are costs all the way around. Frank-Collins said the company has also incurred cost but did not comment on the details.

“There’s certainly a cost, there’s a cost to employees not getting wages, there’s a cost to the community in that those wages are not going into the local economy,” he said.

Every second and fourth Thursday of the month, the women hold a support group meeting at the union hall at 6:30 p.m. Then, every third Tuesday, the women hold a solidarity dinner for the workers at the hall around 6:30 p.m.

Different families also bring food in on many of the other days to be sure the workers get a hot meal, especially if they are sitting on the picket line in the cold.

“No one’s going to go hungry on the line,” Steve Brown said.

The women have also served time on the line to relieve their husbands so they can rest, have meetings or get a bite to eat.

“Anything we can do to keep their spirits up, even to keep our spirits up,” Henke said.

Karen Brown said the dinners have been so pleasant that they hope to continue them even after the negotiations are resolved because they enjoy the socializing.

“We have formed a sisterhood,” she said. “We’re making good out of a bad situation.”

Brown talked about the old children’s story about the stone soup, where no one person had all the ingredients to make the soup, but everyone had at least one thing to offer and together, they fed the whole town.

“We’re all in this together,” she said. “We may not have much but we can share.”

The Browns said there are about six families who are not getting any unemployment at all right now because they were on worker’s compensation when the lockout took place. Therefore, the union workers have been raising money to help them.

Denny Longwell, staff representative for the United Steelworkers Union District 1, said the workers have also donated portions of their unemployment to help these families.

Although the community spirit has certainly seemed to have risen out of this difficult time for the employees, the reality of the struggle to get by is still very real. Henke said the not knowing what will happen weighs heavy on her mind.



“We don’t know if we’ll ever be able to retire,” she said. “I have no health insurance. Do you know how scary that is at my age? We just want our futures back.”

 

 

 

 




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