No End In Sight For Special Metals Strike In Huntington
A strike at the Special Metals special alloy plant in Huntington is entering it’s 20th week. Union workers and members of the local community are eager to see the negotiations reach a resolution.
Special Metals is the largest plant of its kind in the world, an important producer for the U.S. Department of Defense, and one of the oldest employers in the greater Huntington region.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting received no response from the company after multiple requests for comment.
On October 1st, around 450 United Steelworkers walked out of Special Metals. Safety issues, health care, and the length of temporary jobs were reasons given for the strike.
“Over the course of the negotiations, they've made small moves on their raises and stuff,” said United Steelworkers Local 40 Chairman Greg Elkins. As far as health care, we're going backwards.”
During a Huntington city council meeting in January, in a 6 to 4 vote, the council passed a resolution urging both Special Metals and the workers to come to the negotiating table.
David Maynard, a member of the union’s negotiation committee, told the council that 450 workers without money to pay for goods would start negatively impacting the local economy.
“We're not going out to eat, we're not going to the movies, we're not shopping. It's costing the city money,” Maynard told the council. “We would continue to work under our contract. We're just asking to stay on a plateau where we're at.”
Before voting in favor of the resolution, Council Member Bob Bailey said local representatives should support their constituents.
“If you think back about this country, you'll find out who made it strong. It’s men and women of the unions. We've got a good workforce, and these men and women, they deserve anything this council can do for them,” Bailey said.
Aside from the local economy, the strike is impacting the U.S. Department of Defense.
Level 1 Fasteners is a Huntington based manufacturer for the Navy and its other subcontractors. The company produces fasteners, items that hold different parts together like nuts and bolts, that are vital for Navy ships and submarines.
Level 1 Fasteners told WVPB that 15% of its fasteners are made with materials produced from Special Metals. The company currently has material from Special Metals still in stock, but with most of its orders from special metals on back order, it will need to switch toward using material from other vendors.
“I hope those work in our favor, because they're beginning to find out that we are a necessary part of their business,” said Elkins, noting that the supply chain issues demonstrate cracks in the company’s contingency. “Some of the contracts specifically state that Special Metals, Local 40 has to do the work, and without us in there, I would say that those contracts are all on hold.”
To Elkins, the current strike feels different than the one he was part of over 20 years ago.
“I was here in ‘98, ‘99,” Elkins said, “The people who are negotiating this contract are not the same people.”
Elkins said that although morale among the union members shifts up and down, it is currently up.
“We all feel the same about our jobs. Everybody likes what we do. We just want a fair contract,” Elkins said. “With the rate of inflation and everything else that's going on in the world. We just, we feel we deserve what we're asking for.”
Valentine's Day marked the 136th day since the strike began on October 1. No date has been set for the next round of negotiations. The 1999 strike lasted 10 weeks.