Aurora -- For about an hour on Aug. 14, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown spoke with members of United Steelworkers Local 8565 about their experience with Rotek Inc.
Brown is trying to assist the more than 100 union members who have been involved in a work stoppage at Rotek since mid-January in reaching a "fair and equitable agreement" with the company. He met with union members at their outposts along Route 43 in front of the plant, and listened to their concerns.
"We want to do anything we can to help," Brown said. "We'll continue to try to talk to management."
Joining Brown was state Rep. Kathleen Clyde and local USW representatives.
The approximately 120 USW members say they were locked out by Rotek after they rejected a contract that would reduce the wages of all employees and force concessions to many of their benefits, including health care. They have been picketing outside the facility since Jan. 18 and have rejected numerous contract proposals from the company, which makes products for America's military defense and wind energy.
Kellie Harris, director of media and communications for ThyssenKrupp of North America, parent company of Rotek, said the firm welcomes any constructive support Brown or others can offer to resolve the dispute.
"The company remains open to working with the union and continuing our negotiations," she said.
Harris previously said that Rotek implemented the terms of its "last, best and final offer" Jan. 14, and workers decided to picket Jan. 18.
Rotek considers the work stoppage a strike, and has been hiring replacement workers since May.
Like union members, Brown calls it lockout. In a July 22 letter to Rotek, Brown said he is "concerned that the length of the lockout has already forced workers and their loved ones to experience economic hardship."
He also believes the replacement workers aren't experienced enough to produce high-quality products.
"THESE workers want to get back to work and provide for their families, plain and simple," Brown said in a press release. "I will continue to offer whatever assistance I can to ensure that Rotek ends this unnecessary and costly lockout which hurts our country's military defense and renewable energy production."
According to USW staff representative Dennis Brubaker, about 50 of the locked-out workers were on layoff, and six or seven have crossed the picket line since Rotek began hiring replacement workers. Although the workers are getting small unemployment payments, Rotek has appealed the decision by the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services' Office of Unemployment Compensation.
When Brown expressed concern about the quality of the products under replacement workers, USW members claimed that July was a record month for Rotek for the amount of scrap, with $150,000 worth.
Harris previously said that the product quality hasn't gone down after the replacement workers came on board.
"Our training standards remain as rigorous as they've always been," Harris said. "We set up the appropriate training [for the applicants]..
ALL NEW HIRES have to align with the Rotek employee training standards, and we continue to maintain a safe environment for them to do their best work. The dispute has not impacted the high quality of our product."
Some union members told Brown the company isn't willing to negotiate and wants to break the union. A group of workers is going to ThyssenKrupp's North America headquarters in Chicago next week to discuss the situation.
Workers also are grateful for federal support.
"Anytime we get a congressional representative [interested in the union's cause], it's important to us," said Brubaker. "It's more moral support. The more informed they are, the more they talk."
Brubaker said Rotek wants serious concessions and claims it's losing money, "but they won't show us the books to justify what they're saying."
Worker Safet Mujamovic claimed most workers have "sacrificed our lives" for the company, working seven days a week with no breaks.
"We worked for 50 years and now we aren't good anymore," he said, adding that workers are ready to take a pay cut if Rotek can prove it is losing money.
Shawn Gilchrist, a representative with the union headquarters' staff said, "We always know it's tough [on the members] but we've worked really hard to keep everyone motivated. We're moving the fight to places where Rotek is not comfortable."
Brown ended by saying he will continue to help the union negotiate with Rotek.
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