SOUTH SHORE, Ky. – A strike against the Harbison-Walker International refractories plant here continues into its fourth month with no settlement in sight.
A negotiating committee for the union met with company officials Jan 20 in a lengthy session, but nothing was settled, according to Craig Hunt, president of Local 133 of the United Steelworkers Union.
“No new talks were scheduled,” Hunt said.
Without elaborating, he said the union has made several concessions, “But the company keeps its hand out for more and more.”
The company has offered a three-year pact with no increase in wages through the life of the contract.
Hunt said the average pay for hourly workers at the plant is $19.28 an hour.
The plant employs from 105 to 110 people.
“The company wants to cut wages for new hires and slash retirement benefits,” Hunt said.
But he said the strike is “not about economics” so much as it is about the number one complaint – the union’s charge of “unfair labor practices” against the company.
He accused it of “bad faith bargaining” by insisting on wanting to negotiate on an issue involving retirees’ health care plans.
Under bargaining rules, he said, it’s not permissive for one side to insist on bargaining on an issue.
“Both parties must agree to bargain over that. Neither party can force the other. We don’t want to bargain over that. We feel like those guys retired with what they got and we don’t want to bargain over that.”
He said the company wants to make a change in coverage as well as increase the amount paid on premiums.
That issue is the first of several unfair labor practices the union has listed in a complaint its attorneys have filed with the National Labor Relations Board.
Other alleged infractions the union says the company has made include threats by supervision against union members before the strike began, unlawful surveillance of union members, and the company’s refusal to pay vacation money which had been approved the year before.
Hunt said the NLRB is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the complaint on Feb. 27.
Plant officials directed calls to Judy Weisseg, director of human resources, at the firm’s corporate offices in Pittsburgh. She did not respond to a message left on her phone Jan. 23 asking for the company’s response on the issues.
Bargaining between the union and the company began in February. The current contract expired in March. The company made its final offer in mid-April.
“We continued to work without a contract until Oct. 10, when union members voted unanimously to strike,” Hunt said.
The strike has been uneventful. Pickets are posted at the main gate and the truck gate, both located just off U.S. 23 inside city limits.
“We’re trying to hold a peaceful picket and win this fight against unfair labor practices,” Hunt said. “We’ve had the support of the community. We appreciate that and we want to keep it.”
Local churches have brought food to the strikers and some individuals or companies have given money.
The plant, which produces shaped bricks and other refractory products used in iron, steel and glass industries, has continued to operate.
Robert French, a member of the union’s negotiating committee, said as far as the union has been able to determine from 20 to 25 salaried employees and an unknown number of replacement workers are continuing to turn out a product.
“We believe some guards and replacement workers are out-of-towners,” French said. “There’s a company that that’s what they do, provide replacement workers where there is a strike or a lockout.”
The plant has always been known locally as “the brickyard.”
RAW PRODUCT NEARBY
It had its beginning in 1904, according to “A History of Greenup County, Kentucky” by Nina Mitchell Biggs and Mable Lee Mackoy.
The Charles Taylor Co. of Cincinnati bought land where the current plant is located and built a firebrick plant. There were good deposits of clay to be mined on the head of nearby Schultz Creek.
A tramway was built, and a small locomotive, known as the “dinky train,” pulled cars loaded with the mined product, down past Bryson’s General Store, over Timberlake Hill, and on down along the bank of Tygarts Creek to the Taylor brickyard.
The plant contributed to the World War II effort by producing thousands of bricks used in furnaces in the manufacture of steel.
According to “Greenup County, Kentucky An Historical Reflection,” compiled and edited by retired Circuit Judge Lewis D. Nicholls, by 1946, when the company listed 117 people on the payroll, it quit making fire clay products to produce a “super refractory” made from kyanite, mullite, alumina and zircon.
Instead of using a raw product close by, it now imports materials from as far away as India.
The plant changed hands over the years and has been known by several names, including the Didier Taylor plant, the North American Refractories Co. and A&H Refractories.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 932-3619.