Employees of Aiken's AGY plant are expected to return to work on Monday, after the plant's labor union voted on Thursday to approve a new labor contract, according to multiple sources.
Multiple employees of the plant said Thursday that the General Drivers, Warehousemen and Helpers Local Union No. 509 voted to approve the new contract, the details of which were sparse late Thursday afternoon.
“The only word we know is, we're going back to work,” an employee with more than 40 years of experience at the plant said Thursday. She asked not to be identified because union members are not authorized to speak with the media.
“The company is still a union plant. The company tried to get the union out, but that didn't work,” she said.
Other AGY employees, who wanted to remain anonymous, confirmed the news as well.
Debbie Kenny, a representative for the local Teamsters union, hung up the phone when first reached by a reporter on Thursday. On a second attempt, she said she would ask the president of the local union to contact the newspaper; however, no such contact was made by press time on Thursday.
Messages left with multiple representatives at AGY on Thursday were not returned by press time.
The plant allegedly deactivated the access badges of all its employees on May 2.
Plant workers began picketing outside the plant's U.S. 78 and Wagener Road entrances on May 2. The demonstration was in response to a dispute between the Teamsters union and AGY over a new labor contract that reportedly involved 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 local union.
The disputed contract reportedly would have eliminated overtime refusals and daily overtime, as well as daily and weekly vacation pay and overtime pay for work on holidays. It also would have reportedly added suspensions and “progressive discipline,” and change a leave of absence so that it “counts as an absence sooner,” according to the memo.
AGY President and CEO Drew Walker tried to explain, in a July 1 letter to employees, the company's belief that employees had been given misleading information about union negotiations.
AGY proposed a wage increase despite rumors to the contrary, Walker wrote. But the 5 percent increase the union was reportedly seeking was unacceptable, he said.
AGY also tried to dispel the rumor that the plant was trying to do away with seniority. Walker wrote that AGY was proposing a revision of the current seniority language that will take into account an employee's ability, work record and performance in addition to seniority.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.