Windham – A press release received by the Weekly Villager from HarbisonWalker International (HWI) states that “The United Steelworkers International Union 8565-03 has rejected the most recent contract offer and commenced an economic strike at the Windham facility effective at midnight on September 30, 2017.”

According to the press release, the collective bargaining agreement expired on September 15, 2017. HWI stated that “It has been and will continue to operate under the terms and conditions of the expired collective bargaining agreement while continuing to bargain in good faith towards a new contract. The company’s objective is to keep workers employed and customers’ needs met.”
The press release goes on to explain that they are disappointed that since the contract negotiations began the union has voted down two comprehensive proposals that included wage increases and a highly market-competitive benefits package. The offer is intended to continue to providing secure and attractive jobs for more than 90 folks in the Windham community and surrounding area, while allowing the company to remain competitive in the global market. HWI is committed to reaching a new contract with the union. Although they are committed, to do that they must meet customer’s needs as well. The plant is continuing to operate under a contingency plan in full compliance of the labor laws to fulfill current orders.

Union members on the picket lines say they have made concessions for the last 13 years. First it was 10 years to help HWI when they were in bankruptcy and the three years after coming out of bankruptcy to allow HWI to get stabilized.

Strike Captain Wayne Brown said the union offered a proposal last week and it was rejected by the company. According to Brown and Matt McManus, the company wants them to keep making concessions but they claim HWI is continuing to give salary employees bonuses. The workers just want what is fair. They believe the package that was offered, which would freeze pensions, raise the match on their 401K and increase wages, but also increases their cost for insurance while increasing deductibles and out of pocket expenses isn’t fair. McManus said, “The freezing of pension is costing him a lot of money for his retirement.” Employed at HWI for 17 years McManus believes the company should unfreeze the pensions and live up to the promise they gave their prospective employees when they were hired. He said the pension plan was one of the reasons he left a good job and came to HWI.

Both gentlemen also stated that the jobs they hold at HWI require skill. An average Joe off the street just can’t come in and start working. They claim it takes time to train them properly so they can develop the skills needed to run the kilns and other machines in the facility.

The strikers are afraid if they accept the concessions, they are setting a precedent that could affect future employees and the current younger ones from having decent employment with a competitive benefit package. They claim the company just keeps taking away more and more and soon they will have just another job, not the great job it had been.

Like HWI Management, the union would like to see the strike end quickly, as they all want to get back to work. The strikers just want to continue to have a great job with a benefit package that won’t jeopardize the future of quality employment in the area.

Many of HWI employees live in Windham and the surrounding area and are active in the community. The strike not only affects their families, it also affects the local economy.
Currently there are not any offers on the table and there are not any new contract talks scheduled. So for now they are at an impasse.

* Calls to the HWI to comment further on the press release or to refute the strikers’ claims were unreturned by press time.