By Tom McParland
Five hundred Vallourec plant workers will vote next week on whether to join the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, union and company representatives say.
The National Labor Review Board will oversee the election, scheduled for Tuesday to Thursday at the Vallourec facility, which produces steel pipes for the oil and gas industry.
Pro-union employees said next week’s vote is the result of a nearly yearlong organizing effort aimed at protecting worker wages and benefits and other concerns.
Judson Wallace, president of Vallourec Star, said in a statement that unionization would benefit neither the company nor its employees.
“While we support the rights of employees to choose whether they wish to organize a union, we do not believe this would add value, foster teamwork or add to the competitiveness of the company,” Wallace said.
“Vallourec Star employees enjoy competitive wage rates and positive working conditions, which they receive without a union,” he said.
The UE said in a statement that the organizing effort was spurred in part by pension cuts, reductions in holiday and premium pay and a two-tier wage system that puts newer mill employees at lower wage levels.
“We need a binding contract that protects and improves our rights, wages and benefits,” said Bill Allen, a longtime mill employee.
According to UE representative Karen Hardin, pro-union employees have tangled with Vallourec in recent months. The union recently filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, accusing Vallourec of interfering with organizing efforts.
At issue was Vallourec’s employee handbook, which prohibited employees from “distributing literature and circulating petitions during work time” on company property. Other complaints centered on intimidation, harassment and verbal abuse directed at organizing employees by the company and Vallourec security guards, she said.
While the company changed its solicitation and distribution policy, the NLRB scheduled a hearing for the second week of February to address the other unresolved issues.
Pro-union employees and the UE will take their campaign public this weekend with a press conference scheduled for 1 p.m. today.
Workers from Vallourec plants in France will show their support at the event. They say that more than 80 percent of Vallourec’s 23,000 worldwide workers are members of unions.
Allen said Youngstown’s workers should have the same opportunity as their French counterparts, who he said can make up to $5 more an hour as members of the French metal workers union CGT.
Vallourec Star has operated a pipe mill in Youngstown for 11 years, and employs about 820 employees at the Brier Hill Business Park off Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Vallourec officials are expected to make a decision in less than 90 days about an $81.5 million steel-pipe threading facility about a mile from the company’s $1.1 billion expansion mill.
The company wants to use the former Genmak Steel building and an additional 67,500 square feet nearby in the city’s Ohio Works Business Park for the VAM USA LLC threading plant.
The facility would employ 84 full-time workers by early next year.
City council approved a 10-year, 75-percent property-tax abatement for the proposed VAM project, and the city will receive $300,000 from the state for improvement work at the location should the Vallourec subsidiary expand there.
When asked if the labor issue would impact the expansion, Youngstown Finance Director David Bozanich said, “The city has no knowledge of any difficulties that would relate to not moving ahead with the project except for the company’s final decision on locating there.”
The city does business with companies that have unionized workers and those that do not, he said.
“The ultimate decision [on the union issue] is made by the employees and the company,” Bozanich said. “We don’t interfere. Everyone wants a plant built here and the new jobs. We’re trying to facilitate that.”
Contributor: David Skolnick