AGY released a statement in response to a demonstration by employees that was initially called a strike, but is now being called a “lockout.”
Employees of the plant began standing outside the plant entrances on Wagener Road and U.S. 78 on Friday, waving signs that read, “Teamsters on strike against AGY for Unfair Labor Practices.” Employees were still standing outside the two entrances on Monday, except the signs they were holding read, “AGY locked me out.”
The demonstration is in response to a dispute between the plant workers' union and AGY over a new labor contract that reportedly involves issues with seniority, including nixing plant seniority, laying off employees without regard to seniority and having job bids not based on seniority, according to a memo dated April 22 that was sent out to union members by L.D. Fletcher, president of the General Drivers, Warehousemen and Helpers Local Union No. 509.
AGY released a statement on Saturday in which it said that AGY and the union have been meeting since March 24 to negotiate a new contract for the plant's employees.
According to the statement, AGY on April 29 gave the union a final offer for a three-year agreement and requested that the offer be presented to union members for a vote.
“Unfortunately, Teamsters Leadership immediately rejected AGY's proposal, stating that it would not present the proposal to its membership or give its membership the opportunity to vote on the proposal,” the statement read. “It is AGY's understanding that, in fact, no such vote ever occurred. Instead, the Union called a strike at midnight on May 1, 2014. AGY is very disappointed in the Union's position and its refusal to seriously consider AGYs proposal.”
AGY will continue to operate the plant “while the strike is in progress,” according to the statement, which added that AGY “hopes to reach an amicable resolution to get the Union to agree to a modern 21st century collective bargaining agreement.”
Overtime refusals and daily overtime would be eliminated, as well as daily and weekly vacation pay and pay for work on holidays, according to the memo sent to union members. Sunday pay would also be cut to straight time.
Among other changes, the new contract adds suspensions and “progressive discipline,” and changes a leave of absence so that it “counts as an absence sooner,” according to the memo.
Contract negotiations were expected to continue through midnight Thursday, which is when the then-current contract expired; however, an employee told the Aiken Standard the plant management began to “lock” employees out before midnight by deactivating their access badges.
“The third-shift people that were supposed to go into the plant were turned around in the parking lot by Aiken County and weren't allowed in,” she said.
Multiple protestors on Monday said employees were asked as early as 4 p.m. on Thursday to report to the break room and cafeteria to watch “safety videos.”
They said their demonstration is not a “strike,” and that the workers' union never initiated a strike. Employees were asked late last week to report to the union's headquarters on Park Avenue on Friday.
Aiken County Sheriff's deputies remain posted outside the plant's Wagener Road entrance. The protestors plan to be outside the plant from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day, holding signs and asking drivers to honk their horns in support.
The Aiken Standard has reached out multiple times to union representative Debbie Kenny, who declined to comment. Kenny could not be reached for comment for this story.
A message left with an AGY spokesperson seeking comment for this story was not returned by press time on Monday.