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Eramet union OKs deal

By Sam Shawver,

SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times

An employee of Eramet leans on barricades Friday outside the Ohio 7 plant shortly after members of the United Steelworkers of American ratified a new contract with the company. A placard, expressing the union members’ appreciation for support from the community is seen in the background. Workers, locked out for 160 days, will return to work Monday morning.

Eramet Marietta officials were pleased, but union workers say there was little to celebrate after they ratified a three-year contract with the company on Friday.

“Most of our members do not like this contract, but felt they needed to return to work to provide income for their families,” said Jim Deem, president of United Steelworkers Local 1-00639.

A vote by 241 of the union’s 266 membership ended a 160-day labor dispute that had put approximately 290 employees out of work since August.

Workers will begin returning to work Monday morning.

“I was cautiously optimistic, and I was very hopeful that this would be the outcome, but I was conscious of the fact that we had two other votes that didn’t result in a contract ratification,” said Ethan Frank-Collins, director of human resources at Eramet.

“The key from my perspective is that we’re thrilled. It’s a great day for Eramet, our employees, and this community,” he added. “But it’s been hard on everyone involved.”

In August, workers turned down the first of three contract offers from the company because it 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 in a 401(k) plan with a dollar for dollar match, up to 5 percent.

The three-year contract ratified on Friday still freezes the pension plan, caps the cost of retiree health care insurance for the company, and increases deductibles and out of pocket medical expenses for both active members and retirees, according to Deem.

“Eramet is an employer that has enjoyed $100 million profit over the past three years, acknowledged that the cost of labor was only 5 percent of its overall cost, and yet demanded concessions from these workers,” he said.

Workers’ wages will increase over the next three years by 59 cents the first year and 56 cents in each of the following two years.

When the previous contract expired, Eramet workers were making an average of $19.53 per hour.

The company also agreed to increase the current 401 (k) match to 5.5 percent dollar for dollar, and raise that match to 6 percent beginning in 2008.

“These were very minor changes. There was really an insignificant difference from the first contract we were offered,” said Denny Longwell, staff representative for Local 1-00639.

“Many who voted for this contract said they didn’t like it, but they felt it was time to get back to work,” he said. “They were concerned for their families and understood that this was having a negative effect on the community.”

The workers expressed great appreciation for the community’s support over the last five months.

“The community has been great to us,” said John Zumbro of Stockport who continued to help man one of the union’s picket lines on Friday afternoon.

“The other unions in the area have been good to us, too,” added picketer Gary Thomas of Devola.

“People kept food at the union hall. We certainly didn’t starve to death,” he said.

“We also want to thank the people who have had us in their prayers, and those who worked behind the scenes,” said worker Ed Vickers.

“I don’t think there was a victor in this dispute, but I think the people on the union side of the table did the right thing,” Longwell said. “And the company did move, although not by much.”

Eramet CEO Russ Craig praised non-union employees who kept things running during the dispute.

“Our salaried employees really pulled this company through this situation,” he said.

Collins said work routines would gradually return to normal.

“We’re going to scale back our operations as necessary to focus first on going through safety orientations and reindoctrinization, then we’ll work to slowly ramp our production back up as the situation permits, and move forward from there,” he said.

“We recognize that things could be rocky for a time, and we need to work through that to be sure that this goes as smooth as possible,” Collins added. “It’s about healing, but it’s going to take time and people treating each other with respect.”

“We’re not going back looking for a fight, and I hope management knows that,” Longwell said.

Eramet dispute by the numbers

160 — The number of days the dispute settled Friday between United Steelworkers Local 1-00639 and Eramet Marietta lasted. The union called it a lock out. The company contended it was a strike.

1985 — The year of the last work stoppage when members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers walked out for 21 days.

1 — Eramet Marietta is the only producer of manganese ferroalloys in the U.S. and Canada. The French-owned company employs approximately 400 people.





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