SALEM - Striking American Standard workers hoisted picket signs while union leaders and company officials met behind closed doors Friday with a federal mediator and U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, but with no agreement reached, workers remain on the strike line.
"The company refuses to move off of their last position on Sept. 30," United Steelworkers Local 1538 staff representative Joe Holcomb said after the meeting.
That's when American Standard Brands made what company spokesman Tracy Benson Kirker called its last, best and final contract offer, which included a 5 percent wage reduction, a reduction to 401K contributions to a 75 percent match up to 6 percent of pay and an increase in health care contributions to 25 percent, along with the addition of a profit-sharing plan.
American Standard workers expressed their sentiments while striking along Newgarden Avenue Friday. (Salem News photo by J.D. Creer)
The previous three-year contract expired Sept. 30, but was extended twice. The company implemented the contract offer on Thursday, one day after the union issued a 48-hour unfair labor practice strike notice which took effect at 1 p.m. Friday. Employees had already left the plant on South Ellsworth Avenue at 10 a.m. when the company suspended production "to ensure an orderly and efficient operations shutdown," a company press release said.
According to the press release issued by Kirker, all employees will be paid for four hours of work Friday, regardless of shift, as a show of good faith. Wages and benefits, including health insurance, will end Monday for any employee who strikes and doesn't report for work at 8 a.m. Monday, regardless of shift.
Wilson, D-6, met with representatives of both sides, along with a federal mediator and Salem Mayor Jerry Wolford, for more than four hours Friday afternoon at the Salem Community Center, but talks stalled with no resolution reached.
"He did the best he could," Holcomb said about the congressman.
According to Holcomb, the union offered to give some wages back, but the company wouldn't budge from its proposal. He said the workers will remain on strike and the union will file an unfair labor practice complaint Monday with the National Labor Relations Board accusing management of failing to bargain in good faith. He called the company's offer a "take it or leave it contract proposal."
"They put their feet in clay and they're not willing to talk," Holcomb said.
When asked if there was any talk about closing the plant or bringing in replacement workers, he said nothing was mentioned.
When contacted after the meeting, Kirker said mediation is a closed door private discussion and management wasn't going to comment on the discussions that took place. She said the two parties were at an impasse, with the company planning to release a statement today.
Holcomb said workers will have the opportunity to purchase health insurance coverage through COBRA or through the strike defense fund through the union. If the strike lasts longer than three weeks, strike pay benefits allotted to the USW Local 1538 will become available to workers, based on need.
A spokesman for Wilson could not be reached for comment, but Wolford said he's talked to both sides and neither wants to see the plant move out of Salem. He commented that both sides have their points, adding that nobody likes concessions and the company says it needs the concessions.
He admitted the situation will affect the city financially, but he's thinking more about the people who work there because a lot of families will be affected.
"I have fear for them," Wolford said.
State Rep. Linda Bolon, D-Columbiana, didn't attend the meeting, noting the congressman set it up and was handling it. She said she and Sen. Jason Wilson, D-Columbiana, met with company officials about a month ago and she's been concerned and watching the situation as it unfolded.
She said she's willing to work with anybody and offer her assistance to help get it resolved.
As for the employees on the picket line, most of them just want to get back to work.
"We don't want to be out here. We want to be in there, working," Mel Cipra of Guilford Lake said.
A 19-year veteran of the plant which produces kitchen and bath products, he said the union members have been forced into the strike due to unfair labor practices. The picketing will take place 24/7 with workers taking turns on a voluntary basis.
"We don't want any problems from anybody. We just want to represent our Local," he said.
One sign said, "We don't want to stand at the gate, we want to negotiate."
Edna Dillinger, another worker from Guilford Lake, with 17 years on the job, said they just want things to be fair.
"We're hard-working people. We make them money. We're just asking for a little piece of the pie," she said.
Ronnie Hughes, a Hubbard resident with 20 years at American Standard, said workers want to maintain what they have. She said the company threatened that if they went on strike, they would lose their jobs.
"Tell old man Bush to give us some bailout money," Bob Breese of Ellsworth said.
Mike Stuchell, of East Liverpool, wore a union shirt from 2005 and changed the 5 to an 8 for 2008. He said the workers are concerned.
"This is definitely not what we wanted. We're like the rest of the world, we just want to work," Rich Wright of Salineville said.
American Standard Brands is an affiliated portfolio company of Sun Capital Partners with a minority interest held by Bain Capital Partners Inc.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at mgreiersalemnews.net