RMI TITANIUM Locked-out workers ask for support
Locked out since late October, workers hope lawmakers extend jobless benefits.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
WEATHERSFIELD -- Union leaders representing 380 workers locked out of their jobs at RMI Titanium since October are starting a yard sign campaign to increase awareness of their situation.
Todd Weddell, president of United Steelworkers of America Locals 2155 and 2155-7, said union representatives will be contacting supporters all over Mahoning and Trumbull counties asking them to post yard signs.
Yard signs and car signs are also available at the union hall, located at 1265 Main St. in Niles.
Meanwhile, negotiations resumed Tuesday after U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, persuaded RMI officials to return to the bargaining table. The two sides met Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday but made little progress, Weddell said.
RMI has said it will not comment on the labor dispute except through press releases.
Weddell said the company is asking for concessions, saying it needs to save $3.5 million in operating expenses because it has been losing money. RMI has refused to allow union auditors to review company books to confirm the losses, he said.
"It's common procedure for a company to allow the union to look at their books, and it's important for us when we go to the membership to try to explain why the company wants us to make sacrifices," Weddell said, "but they say no."
Union members have been manning 24-hour, informational picket lines outside the Weathersfield titanium plant since Oct. 26 when the company blocked them from reporting to work. The lockout came two days after workers rejected what the company had called its final offer, a three-year contract that included a wage freeze.
Salaried workers have been operating the plant since then.
Locked out workers have been receiving state unemployment compensation which provides about 60 percent of their usual salaries, but the benefits will expire at the end of this month. Weddell said the workers hope that the U.S. Senate will approve a 26-week extension of jobless benefits, which has already passed in the House.
He said the union has repeatedly offered to return to work under terms of its former agreement.
Weddell said several workers have retired since the lockout began, and several others have found new jobs.
The lockout is especially difficult for longtime employees, he said, who have been on the picket line at RMI twice before. The local's last contract was settled in 1999 after a seven-month strike, and the contract before that, in 1995, was resolved after a one-week strike.