Intalco to Train Replacement
by John Stark
Union notified Monday evening of company's intentions
Three days after the expiration of their contract, union workers are still on the job at Alcoa Intalco Works west of Ferndale, waiting for talks to resume with the company.
"That's where we're at right now, staring each other in the peepers, I guess," said Mike Goddard, assistant director of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Labor-management relations took a turn for the worse on the evening of Monday, Oct. 17, when the company notified the union that replacement workers would be entering the plant to be trained to take over smelter operations if there is a strike.
"Given the uncertainty of the situation, we have to take these precautions to protect the business," Intalco spokesman Josh Wilund said.
Shutting down the plant would be a drastic step for both the company and its 500 workers.
The aluminum smelting process involves constant operation of potlines that convert ore to molten metal with a massive stream of electric power, and shutting down those potlines and restarting them is difficult, time-consuming and costly.
But Glenn Farmer, business agent for the union's Local 2379, said the company was violating an earlier agreement by bringing the replacement workers into the plant.
As Farmer told it, the union had agreed not to walk out, even though Local 2379 members have voted to approve a strike. The company had agreed not to lock them out and not to bring replacements into the plant.
After union officials got word that the replacements were headed into the plant, they called a union meeting for 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Asked if the company's move would trigger a strike, Farmer said that was not necessarily the case. But it will likely trigger the filing of an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
Local 2379 voted to reject the company's contract offer Friday, Oct. 14, hours before the midnight expiration of their existing pact. After voting to approve a strike, they also agreed to stay on the job as long as it appeared that progress was being made on a new contract.
But no talks have been held since Saturday, Oct. 15, and as of Monday evening, no new talks have been scheduled. Union workers have continued to report for their shifts and Wilund said production has been normal.
Wilund said the contract offer that union members rejected would have meant annual income of $72,000 a year for the average worker.
Union representatives have said a key issue is the cost of a new medical coverage plan the company is proposing.
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