Negotiators for Imerys Talc America and the locked-out union employees of the company’s Three Forks talc-milling plant failed to agree on a new contract after a day and a half of mediated negotiations.
After several months of previous negotiations and a nearly six-week lockout, the parties sat down on Tuesday and Wednesday with a mediator from Federal Mediation Conciliation Services, a government agency that seeks to resolve labor disputes, hoping to agree on terms that would allow the more than 30 members of the plant’s union local back to their jobs.
Soon after leaving the table without a deal, each side blamed the other for their inability to come to a compromise.
In an emailed statement, an Imerys spokesperson said the company offered “fair and reasonable” terms that included “increasing pay by 3%, offering a new bonus of up to 10% with no requirement for overtime work, a 401k match up to 7% vested immediately, and other economic incentives above the previous collective bargaining agreement.”
The statement went on to say that the “parties remain apart on select key issues. Among them, the degree to which seniority is used to make job placement decisions. The Company believes the use of skills, ability and experience should be key elements of those decisions.”
But according to Randy Tocci, president of the local union and a lead warehouseman in the Three Forks mill, the offer Imerys made during this week’s mediated negotiations did not substantively differ from what the company offered when contract negotiations first broke down on May 23 and when workers were locked out last month.
“They can spin it any way they want, but they haven’t changed their position on their last, best and final (offer) in the last four votes, in my mind,” Tocci said, referring to the number of contracts Imerys has proposed to the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers’ Local D-239. “They said they were willing to go to mediation, yet when we got to mediation, they made no movement on their position at all.”
While talks have so far come up short, the two parties plan to make another attempt to make a deal on Thursday afternoon, when attorneys for Imerys and the union will speak by phone with the mediator.
If mediation doesn’t produce a new contract, Tocci says the union will continue to picket outside the plant and will continue to apply whatever pressure it can to get the company to make an offer the local can agree to.
Over the course of the lockout, statewide politicians from both parties have sought to apply political pressure to Imerys to get them back to the negotiating table. While that has shown some success, Tocci says the lack of a contract means the union might have to look elsewhere for help.
“We’ve still gotta keep putting political pressure all the way to France,” Tocci said Wednesday, suggesting the union may buy shares in Imerys, a French company, and take their case to a stockholders meeting there.
But Cynthia Walker, the attorney representing the union, says the union is already doing what it can to get a resolution here in the United States.
She said Wednesday that in early August, soon after the lockout started, the union filed various charges against Imerys with the National Labor Relations Board, including for refusing to provide information and conducting unlawful surveillance of picketing workers.
“Our position obviously was that the company did not negotiate in good faith during the (bargaining) process,” Walker said. “It’s a variety of conduct that occurred before, during and after negotiations that shows a pattern of bad faith bargaining.”
According to Walker, an NLRB field investigator has been investigating those charges. If violations are found, Walker said, the NLRB would give the parties an opportunity to settle under terms imposed by the NLRB. If a contract still couldn’t be agreed to, Walker said the federal agency could force a resolution.
“The NLRB has the authority to require the company to come back to the table and bargain in good faith,” Walker said. “It also has the authority to reinstate the employees with back pay.”
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