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French metalworkers support unionization vote at Vallourec Star

Published: Sun, January 19, 2014 @ 12:08 a.m.

By Burton Speakman



Since Vallourec took ownership of its facility in Youngstown, things have gotten worse for employees, according to Dave Lorenzi, a worker for Vallourec Star.

Lorenzi was one of the speakers Saturday at an event at the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Union of America in Girard about a mile from the Vallourec Star facilities. The plant produces steel pipe for the oil and gas industry.

Voting will take place Tuesday through Thursday at both the old and new mills at the Vallourec property to determine if workers will become part of the union.

One of the first things Vallourec did when it took over the plant was to freeze pensions for current employees and eliminate them for new employees, Lorenzi said. Employees also have had to pay higher insurance premiums and work in a two-tier pay system.

“I think the final straw was when they pulled the Sunday premium,” he said. “They told us Sunday was just another day.”

Workers previously had been paid time-and-a half for Sunday work, Lorenzi said.

Bill Allen has worked his current job for 18 years, including 11 for Vallourec.

The employees are looking to have more legal rights, he said.

“If you look at the employee handbook, there’s not much in it that benefits us,” Allen said.

If something happens at work, the employees represent themselves with as many as five managers in the room. It makes it difficult for the employee to protect his or her job, he said.

“The first thing in the handbook is you’re an at-will employee, which means you’re employed at their will,” Allen said.

Karen Hardin, a spokeswoman for the UE International said Vallourec has spent “hundreds of thousands” of dollars trying to defeat the union, including hiring a company with hundreds of employees to help stop the union organizing effort.

The company also has mandated that employees come in before or stay after shifts to attend mandatory meetings that are against unionization, she said.

In addition, employees have been promised promotions or raises based on the union vote’s failing, Hardin said.

“These are the mind games that the company is playing,” she said.

Unionizing employees would not benefit the company or employees, said Judson Wallace, president of Vallourec Star, in a previous statement.

“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.

Allen said he disagrees with Wallace’s statement and thinks the union would add value to the product.

“Unions are not inflexible,” Allen said.

The United States facilities are the only Vallourec facilities in the world that don’t have union representation, said Christian Pilichowski, board member for the Metalworkers Federation in France, which represents Vallourec workers in that country.

Pilichowski said his group came to the U.S. to show solidarity for the Vallourec workers in this country.

“We wanted to explain the benefits we have in France because of unionization,” he said.

This is the fourth time during Allen’s tenure that workers have voted about a union, he said.

“The last time [12 years ago], we failed by five votes,” Allen said.

The current workers have an issue with the two-tier pay system in which some workers get paid less despite doing the same work. For some workers, it might be five, 10 or 20 years before they reach the top pay scale.

The workers also are looking for a legal contract that provides them more rights, Lorenzi said.

The union decision is not the only news coming from the Vallourec Star facility.

Company officials are expected to decide 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.

If completed, 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.

Hardin said there is no reason the company would not move forward with an expansion.

The company made sure to talk about expansion just before the union vote, she said.

They want employees questioning whether the expansion will still happen if they vote for the union, Hardin said.


1bambam812(4 comments)posted 2 years ago

I am a current Vallourec employee, here's why I am grateful and will vote NO on this union drive. I enjoy a generous 401k match,an onsite doctor for me and my family at no cost to me, stock purchase options along with free company provided stock,a monthly matrix bonus,a yearly profit check that's usually five figures,a Cadillac health insurance plan,a learning management system that gives me training to advance my career,a generous college tuition reimbursement. ,a two week paid vacation along with 40 personal time off. All in the first year of employment along with my generous wage rate approaching $ 100,000 a year, I have no need for a union to ruin the great job a world class company like Vallourec has provided for their employee's. This is a gem in the valley and I pray my brother and sisters here at Star shoot this vote down.......Chris Gallagher. A proud Vallourec employee

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2bambam812(4 comments)posted 2 years ago

There's so much this company offers to us employee's that I can't even remember it all, but the piece of mind I have knowing that Vallourec provides a generous six figure life insurance policy at. No cost to me to help my family if God forbid I would pass away doing my job is invaluable.

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3polhack(129 comments)posted 2 years ago

Mr. Allan, another way to think about employment at will is if you hire the neighbors kid to mow your lawn and he mows your hedges instead, you fire him. If the kid had a union, he would need to mow your hedges two more times before you could do anything and then he would probably grieve you for not providing a mower clearly labelled 'for grass only.'

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4bambam812(4 comments)posted 2 years ago

I am glad my fellow citizens in the valley show support for us workers at Vallourec Star whom do not want nor need a union interfering with the direction of this company, Vallourec has injected massive amounts of money into the valley, we support so many small businesses right here at home. Vallourec has shown they are seriously committed to our community by providing great jobs with competive wages and continuing investments. As long as Vallourec becomes stronger and rises so does our friends and neighbors in the valley. Let's not let a union that represents the 900 + out of work G.E. Americans in Erie pa. Ruin our investment in our future.

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5ytownsteelman(680 comments)posted 2 years ago

This is not the Brier Hill Works of Ed Mann's era. A union is completely unnecessary.

BTW Love your post polhack!

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6thirtyninedollars(571 comments)posted 2 years ago

As much as I support unions, they have done nothing to help the average man in 30 years. If the unions get into VM, the quality of life of the employees will severely diminish I believe. It will turn into the old Republic and other mills in this area.
I don't agree with Sunday being another day. Maybe in France but it's a weekend here and should be paid accordingly.

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7redvert(2212 comments)posted 2 years ago

It is nice to see that some employees have a head on their shoulders. As bambam812 explains, he has a nice 401 program. How many retirees across this country have or are worried about losing their pensions for various reasons? If the 401 program is setup correctly the worker knows that this is his money and can not be taken away from him.

Once again I will state that I saw this union push coming and stated as such years ago on this forum.

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8republicanRick(1578 comments)posted 2 years ago

Modern day unions are like cancer. They gradually destroy the workers and their families well-being if the cancer and the unions are not stopped.

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9polhack(129 comments)posted 2 years ago

Thirtyninedollars, the only problem with premium payments for Sunday comes when the payment is for the day and not for total hours worked during the pay period. I don't know how they figure it at Vallourec. I do know the 'work rules lawyers' in union shops quickly figure they can go home for a half day and blowoff another all together with no penalty to their pay checks when time and half is paid for a day. They 'work the contract' like this for everything from bathroom breaks to early quits to wash up. Together, these union protected practices add up to expensive lost time, late deliveries, lost customers and eventual butt kicking by competitors.

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1076Ytown(1320 comments)posted 2 years ago

Unions have served their purpose in history to make life better for Americans. Now we have laws that protect us, to be sure that we are treated fairly, that we have safe working conditions.


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11slipscom(1 comment)posted 2 years ago

Vallourec is one of the only few bright spots left in the valley. This company provides its workers, my husband included, with great pay, 401k, monthly bonuses, top notch health care, paid vacation, competitive wages, and many other great benefits. We are lucky to have this great business in our town, but there are always a few individuals who have to ruin a good thing. Why would anyone want to jeopardize this great opportunity that has been set in front of us? If you are willing to work hard and put your time in through education and training anyone can move up the ladder and increase their opportunities. Where do all of the employes of the shut down unionized steel mills and companies work now? Oh that's right at Vallourec.

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12chazz53071(6 comments)posted 2 years ago

Dave & Bill are indeed correct when they say some things have changed and been taken away but It is like that everywhere. The business model has changed and Vallourec has changed along with it. They also fail to mention that while the Sunday premium pay was dropped it was in exchange for the 4 on - 4 off, 12 hour day schedule that they all wanted. One got traded for the other. It wasn't just taken away without anything in return.

Everything that Karen Hardin stated was false and goes to show that they'll say anything to get the workers of Vallourec to provide them with a paycheck.


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