The French-owned company locked out 35 workers on 2 August, after the IndustriALL Global Union affiliate refused to ratify a proposed contract that would have gutted key benefits and work practices.
For more than three brutal months, L-D239 members manned a picket line day and night and steadily gathered allies and advocates, making it clear they were in it for the long-haul. At the same time, pressure against Imerys gained momentum, while extra security, plus scabs Imerys brought in from out of state drove up costs.
“This was a hard-fought victory, and it’s a victory to be sure. In this lockout, the workers from L-D239 endured extreme hardships: no paychecks, no insurance, the daily stress of picket line, constant uncertainty and the disappointment of a failed mediation attempt,” said J. Tom Baca from the Boilermakers Western States Section. “But they stuck it out. They didn’t give up.”
Their determination worked. Imerys agreed to go back to the negotiating table on 25 October, where the two parties reached an agreement to end the lockout. Days later, L-D239 ratified a new three-year contract that reclaimed most of the benefits and work conditions the union initially sought to preserve from previous contracts, including seniority and overtime provisions. Imerys agreed to a one-year extension before health insurance will no longer be available as a benefit to new retirees. The union agreed to drop unfair labour practice charges it filed against Imerys with the National Labor Relations Board.
“Thirty-two workers [three workers left Imerys for other jobs] getting their jobs back and with an agreeable three-year contract in a tiny town in Montana might not seem like much to some, but the reality is, this is a major win not only for the Boilermakers, but for all unions. What L-D239 achieved is proof that solidarity works,” said Tom Baca.
Union members were joined on the picket line by their families, the community, politicians and other unions. In addition to support from local businesses and Boilermaker brothers and sisters nationwide, IndustriALL, the AFL-CIO and other unions championed L-D239 and stoked the pressure on Imerys.
“We’re glad to be back at work,” said L-D239 president Randy Tocci, “And we’re focused on doing what we’ve always done: working hard and producing the best possible product for the mill’s customers. The picket line was not where we wanted to be.”
IndustriALL’s director for mechanical engineering and materials industries, Matthias Hartwich, said:
“We congratulate our affiliate, the Boilermakers, on their victory. This again shows the power of solidarity and determination; although local management tried everything to break the resistance of the locked-out workers, they did not give in. IndustriALL and its affiliates did their best to support the Imerys workers in Montana – we organized support and contacted the Imerys headquarters and European Works Council backing the locked-out workers.”