No sooner had some AGY employees returned to work on Monday after more than two months of being “locked out,” they were told they were being furloughed and escorted from the building, according to multiple sources.
The plant sent a letter dated Aug. 1 to employees stating the plant had reached an agreement with the Teamsters union and employees were to return to work Monday morning, according to multiple employees who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak with the media.
However, after the letter was sent, the plant reportedly began contacting certain employees and telling them that a position would not be available for them if they were hired after 2010.
One employee, who was hired after 2010, said he reported to work Monday morning and his badge allowed him to get into the plant. Soon after, he was directed to a human resources representative, who informed him he had been furloughed.
The employee said the plant gave them no indication on how long the furlough would last.
“They basically said, ‘We’ll call you when we have something for you,’” he said.
The employee said he was at the unemployment office earlier this week and saw multiple AGY employees there.
Another employee, who has been at the plant more than 30 years, estimated about 90 people have been furloughed.
“They’ve laid off people five years back until the plant gets back up to full capacity. They’re not running at full capacity right now,” she said. “The people that are laid off aren’t terminated. They’re just laid off because of activity in the plant.”
She said furloughs like this happen temporarily “when business trails off.”
“When production goes back from a certain point, you have to lay people off,” she said. “That’s just how it works. And those are the junior people.”
AGY placed an ad in the Aiken Standard last month stating it had openings for temporary employees and was accepting applications.
The plant reportedly deactivated the access badges of all its employees on May 2 after the plant and the Teamsters Unions failed to reach an agreement on a contract for employees. Many workers began picketing outside the plant’s U.S. 78 and Wagener Road entrances the same day.
Drew Walker, president and CEO of AGY, penned a letter to L.D. Fletcher, president of the local Teamsters union, dated July 16. The letter was sent on to all AGY employees.
In a copy of the letter obtained by the Aiken Standard, Walker proposed meeting at a hotel in Aiken on July 22 to continue negotiations between the plant and the union. The Aiken Standard cannot confirm if that meeting actually took place.
Walker said in the letter that the plant has continued operating with temporary replacements despite the AGY employees being “on strike” for 75 days.
Walker wrote, “While AGY has been successful in meeting its customer needs so far, the Company needs to move forward and get this dispute resolved as quickly as possible and resume normal production.” He went on to say that if the “strike against AGY” continued and a final agreement had not been reached by July 28, then the plant would begin hiring employees to “permanently replace striking employees.”
“Individuals hired by AGY to replace striking employees will be employed as ‘permanent replacements,’ as that term is defined by the National Labor Relations Act,” the letter stated. “As I am sure you are aware, this means that striking employees will not automatically have the right to displace replacement employees in the event that the Union subsequently chooses to end the strike.”
Walker concluded by saying that AGY “values” its employees and preferred not to take such action.
“However, given the length of the ongoing work stoppage and the impact on our business, AGY believes it must take whatever action it believes is needed to satisfy its customer needs,” the letter stated.
Multiple messages left with the Teamsters union were not returned by press time on Tuesday. An AGY spokesperson could not be reached for comment, and messages left with multiple AGY representatives were not returned by press time Tuesday.
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.