FALCONER – More than 300 people were at RHI Monofrax late Wednesday afternoon and early Wednesday night in a show of solidarity for workers who’ve been on strike since the end of September.
The strike includes 120 members of the Service Employees International Union and 14 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union.
With the strike now in its tenth week, SEIU local chief steward Karl Kraus told WRFA Wednesday night that workers are now feeling the financial impact. He said some workers are the primary source of income for their families and as a result of not working for over two months, they are even having a difficult time making house payments, car payments and even paying for groceries.
“It’s been really tough,” Kraus explained. “We are just now this week starting to get unemployment compensation [for the last two weeks] so that’s helping out a little bit but for the first seven weeks we had nothing.”
To show support for the workers and offer help to those who’ve felt the financial burden, the Jamestown Area Labor Federation has reached out to all local labor groups and other community members seeking non-perishable food items as well as cash items to help out the workers. Those donations were presented during Wednesday’s Solidarity rally.
Labor Federation president David Wilkinson (IBEW) was on hand for the rally and explained why he and other union members in the region wanted to show support.
“there was 10 labor affiliations on hand tonight and we brought down donations to try and show solidarity with the striking workers,” Wilkinson said. “It’s important to show that labor is going to stand together in hard times and in good times.”
That help from other labor groups has been greatly appreciated.
“This was incredible to have the Jamestown Area Labor Federation come down and support us,” Kraus said. “We’ve had numerous people come down over the past nine weeks. We’ve had labor unions from all over the area, they’ve come down and given us support. Just everyday Joe Americans have come down and offered support for us, and we’re down here 24 hours a day, seven days a week and we’re going to continue to be out here whether its cold, snowing or raining until we can get a contract that we can live with.”
Company officials and union reps have been unable to come to terms on a new contract since the old one expired at the end of September, with the main sticking points being increased insurance contributions for workers and lower pension benefits from the company, although Kraus says there are a few other issues as well.
The impasses in negotiations has resulted in one of the longer strike’s the area has seen in quite some time.
“This is a large strike and its very important for us to get it resolved. It puts a lot of people out of work,” Wilkinson told WRFA. “We haven’t seen a strike of this magnitude in many years and it seems like the company is not fairly negotiating with the representatives from the union. It’s a different approach that we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Austria-based RHI has owned the Falconer-based Monofrax operation since 2007. The plant makes fusion cast refractories primarily used in the glass industry. The federal government buys materials from RHI Monofrax to clean up nuclear waste, by converting the waste into a form of glass.
With no end to the strike in sight, the company has resorted to bringing in non-union labor to complete work orders that has been delayed since the strike first began the final week of September.
Kraus says the two sides will be meeting again this week to try and finally reach agreement on a new contract.