By TOM McPARLAND
After Vallourec Star workers overwhelmingly rejected a bid to unionize, the company said it would continue to build on its strong relationship with employees.
“We at Vallourec Star are proud of our ongoing investments in our employees and the local community and will continue to provide a safe and respectful workplace where pay and benefits programs remain some of the best in the [V]alley and surrounding areas,” the company said in a statement.
The 367-148 vote was the culmination of a nearly yearlong organizing effort. Some employees took issue with benefits and a two-tier wage system that pays some employees more than others.
Despite the defeat, Chuck Lepowsky, a Vallourec lab technician, said the company has responded to some of the concerns raised during the campaign.
“They did say that they would try to address the issues, but we’ll just have to see how that goes,” said Lepowsky, who was instrumental in organizing the campaign to join the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.
The National Labor Relations Board, which supervised the election, officially will confirm the results in about a week.
Vallourec Star President Judson Wallace opposed the effort, saying in a previous statement a third party would not add value or competitiveness to a company where “employees enjoy competitive wage rates and positive working conditions” without a union.
Karen Hardin, a spokeswoman for the UE International, was proud of the effort but blamed the loss on an “aggressive anti-union” campaign in which the company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We ran a very respectful, a very honest campaign,” she said shortly after learning the results.
The UE and pro-union employees doubled down on their organizing efforts late last week, staging multiple media events to gain momentum. A delegation of Vallourec workers from France, where all workers are unionized, joined plant workers at a Saturday press conference in a show of solidarity.
Girard Mayor James J. Melfi said he had been following the election from a distance.
The city of Girard agreed in 2009 to transfer 191 acres to Youngstown in exchange for a share of tax revenue generated by the new Vallourec facility on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Melfi said he was not surprised at Thursday’s outcome, given futile attempts in the past to unionize with the United Steelworkers of America. Still, he said he has heard strong opinions among constituents on both sides of the issue.
The election came at a time when Vallourec officials are considering the construction of an $81.5 million steel-pipe threading facility about a mile from the company’s $1.1 billion expansion mill.
Youngstown City Council approved a 10-year, 75 percent tax abatement for the VAM USA LLC project at the former Genmark Steel building at the city’s nearby Ohio Works Business Park.
Youngstown is set to receive $300,000 from the state for improvement work at the location should the Vallourec subsidiary expand there.
The proposed expansion may have weighed on the minds of both employees and company officials, said Curtis Lockwood Reynolds, an assistant economics professor at Kent State University.
Unionization would have meant higher costs for the company, which could have jeopardized the expansion, he said.
A pro-union vote could lave caused the company to “decide that expansion is no longer feasible,” said Lockwood Reynolds, who specializes in labor economics.
He added that the new project, which could add 85 jobs, likely was part of pre-vote posturing that often happens on both sides of an organizing campaign.
Lockwood Reynolds said pro-union employees had little leverage in the campaign because there are not many opportunities for outside work in a still-struggling economy.
Despite the huge margin, the minority aired their grievances in what Lockwood Reynolds considered to be a “warning shot” to the company.
“It could provide long-term benefits to employees,” he said. In the future, Vallourec may have to “think a little more carefully” about its workers’ concerns.