EuropTec lockout ends; 11 union workers won't return

Published: Sep. 28, 2016 at 6:39 PM EDT
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The United Steelworkers (USW) and EuropTec USA, Inc. announced Wednesday that the company has agreed to end its lockout of 29 USW Local 567 members at the company's Clarksburg glass processing plant. Employees will officially return to work Monday, October 3.

"We are pleased that EuropTec management has decided to abort its illegal attempt to starve our families into accepting unfair and unnecessary concessions," said USW District 8 Director Billy Thompson. "We look forward to resolving the outstanding issues in good faith at the bargaining table."

Eleven employees, however, will not return to work. In a letter to the union workers and in a subsequent press release, EuropTec wrote "Unfortunately, not all employees can be returned to work at this time due to a lack of work."

These workers are at the bottom of the seniority list. They will have recall rights for up to two years, which means the company can call them back to work during that time.

"It's kind of bittersweet," said Larry Kyle, who has been with the union and EuropTec for 32 years. "I'm happy that the lockout's been lifted, and that they have agreed to give us the backpay they owe us, and that we're going back with our benefits. We have eleven folks who aren't going back."

In the settlement, management has agreed to pay union members back wages for the full duration of the dispute. Last week, the USW estimated the liability for backpay during the lockout to be about $200,000 and growing at a rate of approximately $20,000 per week.

"The solidarity of our membership has been tested before and will be tested again," Thompson said, "but each time an employer picks a fight, we have proved that we are strongest when we are united."

USW members returning from the lockout will resume working under the terms and conditions of their collective bargaining agreement that expired in October 2015 and not the "last, best and final" contract offer that the company illegally implemented in February 2016.

Heather Anderson, a USW staff representative, said the proposal included "unnecessary concessions that the company has not been able to justify." She listed a reduction in vacation time, an elimination of one break, and the demand for workers to pay 50% of the health insurance for family coverage as examples.

The USW filed unfair labor practice charges on July 11, 2016, when workers at the former Eagle Glass facility were locked out of their jobs, and on Aug. 29, National Labor Relations Board Region 6 notified the union that it planned to prosecute EuropTec for the illegal lockout.

EuropTec contends that the NLRB never filed a formal complaint against the company. Anderson says while that is technically true because the two sides settled, the board found merit in the union's charges. The NLRB has not returned calls from 5 News.

EuropTec's full statement Wednesday is below:

"EuropTec representatives announced today it contacted the NLRB last week and worked out the arrangements to end the lockout of its employees and to resume operations. Company representative Andy Ruefenacht stated, "While our attorneys believe there are strong legal arguments which permit us to continue the lockout, we believe that the best way to move forward is to resume operations and pay back wages." Contrary to what the Union has been saying, the NLRB has not filed a formal complaint against the company over the lockout and there has not been an official ruling by any Judge that the lockout was illegal. Operations will resume Monday, October 3 at 7:00 a.m. Unfortunately, not all employees can be returned to work at this time due to a lack of work. The company and the Union have met and bargained repeatedly over the last year but have not been able to reach an agreement. The company seeks changes to its expired bargaining agreement so that it can more effectively compete in the global marketplace. EuropTec is the manufacturer of specialty glass products. EuropTec is part of EuropTec Group which is headquartered in Switzerland and is comprised of eight branches specializing in the manufacturing of glass. The Clarksburg facility is the only U.S. facility. Andy Ruefenacht said, "As we close out this unfortunate period in our history, let us hope that we can come together and work to make our company a place which will provide a strong future for all of our families. We will be explaining to the Union's bargaining team more about why we cannot continue with the same terms and conditions which are causing the company to be non-competitive in this global economy and which has caused so many other companies to close in the Tri-State area."