Novelis workers vote down union; Steelworkers file charges

By Ashley M. Casey

Employees of the Novelis plant in Scriba voted last week not to join the United Steelworkers Union (USW). Of 560 employees polled over Feb. 20 and 21, 273 voted yes to joining USW and 287 voted no.

Jim Ridgeway, a local representative for USW, said USW has already filed charges against Novelis for unfair labor practices including threats and coercion toward employees.

The National Labor Relations Board will determine whether Novelis has violated Sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act. Section 7 concerns employees’ rights to participate in a union and Section 8 describes unfair labor practices.

“This is not a case of being a sore loser,” Ridgeway said. “To me, it’s relatively clear that they did (violate the law). My belief is that the board will decide with us.”

Ridgeway said that although the Scriba plant is not union, USW may act on behalf of Novelis employees who have signed cards in support of joining the union. USW’s attorney, operating out of Pittsburgh, Pa., filed the earliest charges Jan. 27. Ridgeway said the plant has not yet responded to the charges, but is expected to do so within the next week.

Novelis did release a public statement regarding the vote:

“We are pleased that our employees have chosen to maintain a direct relationship with leadership,” said Chris Smith, Novelis Oswego Plant Manager. “With this decision behind us, we are dedicated to encouraging an atmosphere of open communication and mutual trust within our facility. Our team is focused on safe and productive operations as we grow our business through significant expansions underway.”

Growing health care costs, changes to overtime compensation and reduction of retirement benefits led Scriba employees to call for a vote to join the USW late last year. USW represents two other Novelis plants in Terre Haute, Ind., and Kingston, Ontario.

Ridgeway said Novelis will increase health care coverage rates for retirees over the next two years, and coverage will be completely eliminated in 2016. He said Novelis is saving $70 million by “curtailing and eliminating retirees’ benefits at non-union facilities.”

“That’s the one thing that reeks the most of being unfair,” Ridgeway said of the retirement plan changes. He recalled meeting with one 57-year-old retiree who worried about finding another job to cover his vanishing benefits. “It’s just devastating to see an individual go through this,” he said.

Novelis, a global aluminum rolling and recycling company, announced a $120 million investment that would add 90 jobs in December 2013.



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