TRADES & UNION DIGEST > Jobsites > Union members returns to picket line on anniversary of Three Forks lockout

Union members returns to picket line on anniversary of Three Forks lockout

2 weeks ago
Charlie Sprang
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By Perrin Stein
Bozeman Daily Chronicle Staff Writer

Aug 3, 2019

THREE FORKS — Shawn Eva swept the asphalt in front of the gate that leads to Imerys Talc Plant as Wade Horsley spray-painted a red line across the roadway.

“We’re redoing the line, so people don’t forget,” said Eva, who was one of 32 union workers locked out of the plant on Aug. 2, 2018 after contract negotiations with Imerys fell apart. The lockout lasted three months.

A handful of union workers gathered outside the plant when their shift ended on Friday afternoon for the first anniversary of the lockout. They drank beer, gave toasts and told stories as they stood near the picket line they once manned for 24 hours a day.

“We lived out here for three months without insurance and income and stuck with each other through that,” Horsley said. “I stuck with my guys then and I always will.”

Since the lockout ended, it “has been a rough go,” said Randy Tocci, president of the union and the Montana AFL-CIO. Union members found Imerys wasn’t following through on the new contract and wasn’t listening to them. However, Imerys recently met with workers to discuss the issues.

“They seemed to be listening, and we’ll see if they act on it and continue to have an open dialogue,” Tocci said.

The lockout began last summer after workers rejected Imerys’ third offer for a new contract, saying it took away new retiree health benefits, froze employee pension plans, removed seniority from consideration when filling new positions and changed overtime pay.

About a month after the lockout began, the union and Imerys, a French company that operates in 47 countries, met to negotiate but were unsuccessful.

Then in October, the union filed unfair labor practice charges against Imerys with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Imerys had failed to bargain in good faith, hadn’t given the union information it felt entitled to as part of the bargaining process and conducted unlawful surveillance of employees on the picket line.

The lockout ended on Oct. 31 when union workers and Imerys reached an agreement and the union agreed to drop the charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

“This could happen again, maybe not here but somewhere,” Tocci said. “This is not a protest. It’s a remembrance.”

Since the lockout, the union has grown from 32 members to about 42 and continues to see support from others across the state, including some who came out on Friday.

“When you work in a spot like this plant, the people are almost like family,” said Bruce Schendel, a retired union worker who showed up to the picket line almost every day during the lockout. “My people are here, and I’m here for them.”

During the lockout, political leaders from across Montana visited the picket line to show their support. On Friday, John Mues, a Democrat running for Senate in 2020, made an appearance.

As a thunderstorm rolled in, the union workers said they plan to return to the picket line every year as a reminder of what happened.

“I’ve always been proud to do my job and do it well, and they (Imerys) stripped us of that because of greed, pure and simple,” said Danny DeLaittre. “We will continue to fight.”

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