Workers settling into strike

Workers settling into strike

Monday, August 28th 2006

Members of United Steelworkers of America Local 37 settled into picket tents and outposts near Steel of West Virginia’s plant Saturday, one day after the union overwhelmingly rejected a proposed contract and went on strike.

Carl Hall, a staff representative for the union, said he had not had any communication with Steel of West Virginia officials as of Saturday afternoon, and did not anticipate any for at least a couple of days.

“We remain open to any request to go back to the bargaining table, but it’s the company’s call, not ours,” Hall said. “The first few days of a strike usually are about both sides testing the waters and feeling out each other’s strengths.”

Hall said the morale of the workers heading into the first full day of the strike was high, primarily because of Friday’s vote on the proposed contract. Of the union’s 435 members, 407 voted. The final tally was 388-19 to reject the contract.

“Everyone’s encouraged because there was solidarity amongst the ranks,” he said. “But we also realize that no one really wins during a strike. The company makes specialty products, and risks losing its specialty customers. And if they lose their customers, the workers lose their jobs.

“The union just felt it was going to lose a lot more if it accepted what the company was offering.”

Hall said he has not heard whether Steel of West Virginia plans to bring in replacement workers to reopen the plant. Company officials did not return phone calls Saturday seeking comment.

Steel of West Virginia designs and manufactures steel products used in the construction of tractor trailers, industrial lift trucks, off-highway construction equipment such as bulldozers and graders, manufactured housing, guardrail posts and mining equipment.

It is owned by Steel Dynamics, Inc. of Fort Wayne, Ind. Steel Dynamics purchased Steel of West Virginia’s previous parent company, Roanoke Electric Steel Corp., in April.

Union officials say their opposition to the contract, which was tentatively agreed upon by their negotiating committee last week, centered on a reduction of health care benefits and higher health insurance premiums. Some also took issue with the proposed time off for bereavement.

Carl Gooderham, who works at one of the plant’s hot mills, spent eight hours Saturday sitting under a shade tent in front of the plant in the 1800 block of 2nd Avenue. A 27-year veteran of Steel of West Virginia, Gooderham said this is the third time he has gone on strike.

“The turnout of the vote showed our unified support and what we’re willing to do to get what we deserve,” he said.

Gooderham said the union will continue to picket along 3rd Avenue between 15th and 20th streets and near the entrances to the plant on 2nd Avenue.

Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved.

Share this post