Workers strike at Barbourville manufacturer

Nearly 150 workers went on strike Wednesday at a Barbourville plant that produces insulated glass.

The workers, represented by the United Steelworkers, have been unable to reach a new contract with Truseal Technologies. Their most recent contract expired Tuesday night.

The two sides have met for negotiation sessions more than 20 times but still have wide gaps on certain issues, said Sam Elliott, a staff representative for the workers.

"They want the right to just come in and unilaterally change working conditions," Elliott said.

The company also has asked for the right to make certain changes to work schedules that could affect overtime, Elliott said.

Richard Mack, director of human resources for Truseal, declined to discuss specific proposals but did say, "We do not believe that we are asking for economic concessions."

Regarding overtime, he said, "It's not going to affect the dollars. ... It's an administrative issue."

Mack said the company is pushing for what he called a "modernized contract," but he declined to go into detail.

Elliott said the company also has asked for the right to contract out maintenance and production jobs and to move part of the plant's work to other locations without bargaining with the union. He said the company can do those things but is required to bargain "the effects of the move," such as severance pay, with the union.

"We would be writing our jobs off," he said, if they agreed to such a proposal.

Mack said the company has no intention of moving production.

The workers also plan to file unfair labor practice charges against the company, Elliott said, on grounds that managers have discouraged membership in the union and questioned employees about union activity, in violation of federal labor law.

Both sides met again Wednesday, and Elliott said they might continue to meet through the week.

Truseal Technologies, based in Solon, Ohio, is a subsidiary of Quanex Corp., which serves the housing and remodeling industries.

Earlier this month, the company announced quarterly and full-year earnings. Truseal is one of three subsidiaries included in its engineered products group, which saw fourth-quarter revenue fall 11.5 percent, to $99.9 million from $112.9 million in the same period a year ago. For the full year, revenue for the group was down 20.7 percent, to $323.3 million from $407.9 million.

Quanex as a whole saw a net profit of $15.3 million in the quarter, up slightly from $15 million a year ago. For the full year, it had a loss of $137.1 million compared to a profit of $21.6 million for the fiscal year ending Oct. 31, 2008. The full-year loss was linked to a one-time impairment charge of $180 million.

Mack said salaried employees at the plant have crossed the picket line and are doing workers' jobs to continue production.

"We are definitely committed to servicing our customers and meeting their needs," Mack said. "This is not our peak season by any means."