Ravenna -- About 275 people turned out Sept. 21 at a rally at the Ravenna Moose Lodge to support more than 100 United Steelworkers Local 8565 employees who have been away from their jobs at Rotek Inc. in Aurora for more than eight months.
The rally, which was from noon to 2 p.m., took place in a steady rainstorm.
Speakers at the rally included United Steelworkers District 1 Director Dave McCall, Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and a representative from the office of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
"That was a pretty good showing at the rally with the weather being like that," Bill Hyslop, president of United Steelworkers Local 8565, said after the rally.
"The rally was a morale booster where others could offer their support," Hyslop said. "[The speakers] all pledged to help us work with the company to try to get this settled. They offered support to do whatever is needed to it happen."
Kellie Harris, director of media and communications for ThyssenKrupp of North America, parent firm of Rotek, said Sept. 23, "We are encouraged by any individual who can help to find a conclusion to this situation. We are more than happy to speak with individuals and continue to do what's necessary to get the union around the table.
"WE REALLY want to see this situation resolved," Harris said. "From Rotek's side, we've worked diligently and bargained in good faith. We really want to see the union come around the table and genuinely have good discussions with us."
Harris said Sept. 23 that two primary changes Rotek would like to see are to align the bargaining unit wage scale with industry standard salaries, and to align the bargaining unit healthcare plan and employee contributions with Rotek's salary employee health care program.
"The wage scales are dramatically out of proportion," Harris said. "And we want health care benefits in line with all our employees."
Hyslop said after the rally that the union "is not asking for anything" extra. "We're asking to maintain our status quo," he said.
Hyslop said the two sides last met Aug. 21.
"Rotek wanted to talk about requirements to be a union member and making it an open shop," he said. "We said we're not interested in that. We offered them an insurance proposal."
Harris said a Sept. 6 meeting was scheduled, but the union cancelled it. She said it has not been rescheduled.
"We've been proactive about meeting with the union," Harris said. "We want to move forward, and the ball is in the union's court."
Hyslop agreed that a meeting was scheduled Sept. 6. He said the union had asked for some insurance information, and Rotek was supposed to return it in 3-5 days but took much longer.
"They only gave us three days to get everything sorted out, so we cancelled it, with the meeting to be rescheduled," Hyslop said. "We had no time to be able to do anything with the information. We're going to review it Sept. 25 and get back to them about rescheduling the meeting."
Union employees are still picketing in front of the Aurora facility. "We've been out [away from work] for quite a while," Hyslop said. "It starts to wear on you."
At the rally, a large tent was set up. Hyslop said the speakers "were encouraging us that you have to remain steadfast and hold on one day longer."
"THE MESSAGE is to keep fighting and don't get discouraged," he added. "In the end, common sense will prevail, and we can all work together."
Hyslop said after the rally that the mood at the event was "very positive. People were wet and some didn't have umbrellas, but the people were upbeat. It was a shot in the arm.
Harris said Rotek wants to "make the right decisions for our employees, our customers and our community. We continue to bargain in good faith. We still remain open to continuing the negotiations, even though they are at an impasse. Workers want to be on the shop floor, not on the picket lines."
On Jan. 14, Rotek implemented the terms of its "last, best and final offer," Harris said, and the union elected to set up pickets on Jan. 18. Rotek has referred to the situation as a strike, while employees and union reps claim it is "a lockout."
Harris said in May the union rejected a settlement offer, and Rotek began the process of hiring replacement workers.
A hearing officer from the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services' Office of Unemployment Compensation previously ruled that workers had been locked out and were eligible for benefits. The company has appealed the decision.
Earlier Sept. 21, more than two dozen union members marched and rode in the rain at the annual Balloon-A-Fair parade in downtown Ravenna with a non-political United Steelworkers float.
Rotek is a North American leader in the engineering, manufacturing, service and support of large diameter slewing bearings and seamless forged rings that are used in parts that produce wind energy and military products. Hyslop said Rotek makes aluminum gun turret bearings on Hummers.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187
Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC