Two years ago, maintenance workers at REC Silicon in Butte, Mont., voted 30 to 22 to be represented by Helena Local 233. It was the IBEW’s first organizing campaign following three failed attempts by other unions at the company that produces silane gas and polysilicon used in the production of computer chips.
|Kelly Maloney, a former REC Silicon employee, celebrates after winning his job back in settlement of an unfair labor practice charge against REC Silicon.
Today, the parties are finally negotiating a first contract, but only after a protracted struggle by IBEW members who won a series of unfair labor practice complaints filed last year against their employer, a Norway-based company.
REC’s hostility to the union was made clear during the organizing campaign, when the company brought in an outside union-busting firm to thwart the drive, which was powered by workers’ complaints about arbitrary treatment by managers.
“They took a heavy-handed approach with workers. Many supervisors were bullies and they also changed personnel policies without notice or discussion,” says Local 233 Business Manager Keith Allen. “That was more of an issue than wages.”
Rather than sitting down and establishing a constructive relationship with IBEW after the vote, REC’s animosity toward the union persisted.
In July 2013, negotiations began on a first contract and continued until May 2014. But the company again demonstrated its intransigence with a series of actions the local charged were in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. Negotiations fell apart and four unfair labor practice charges were filed alleging several violations by REC. Here are just some of them:
- Installing surveillance cameras without first providing the union with notice and an opportunity to bargain;
- Changing job descriptions without providing the union with notice;
- Subcontracting work traditionally performed by union members without offering notice and an opportunity to bargain;
- Stopping production bonuses for union personnel, while continuing them for nonunion staff;
- Failing to give annual wage increases to bargaining unit members, while paying increases to nonunion personnel;
- Prohibiting union members from using electronic equipment and personal computers to notify members about union activities and stopping distribution of literature related to wages, hours and working conditions.
Further inflaming tensions, a week before Christmas last year, a bargaining unit member was fired. Kelly Maloney was plowing snow on the company’s and county’s roadway, as he had many winters before, when he was charged with failing to secure a pass from his supervisor enabling him to take the vehicle outside the plant gate. Local 233 filed another unfair labor practice complaint appealing Maloney’s firing.
|Local 233 Business Manager Keith Allen says, “We hope to develop a positive working relationship with REC Silicon and show them it’s a good thing to be a union company.”
“I wasn’t a union supporter [in a prior drive],” Maloney says. “I just didn’t think a union was necessary here. But I was wrong.” Maloney says he was targeted because of his support for the union. “They took my support for the union personally and took their shot, even lying about some things that happened,” he says. He spoke to a lawyer about filing a wrongful discharge case but was advised to let the union exhaust its remedies. The union filed its unfair practice complaint.
In April, the NLRB determined that Maloney was improperly discharged and the company had committed a series of unfair labor practices. Maloney was awarded $17,000 in back pay and was made whole for all his benefits. “We escorted Kelly right back into the plant on his first day back. The company gave Brother Maloney his old locker back,” says Allen.
“I’m eternally grateful for the IBEW,” says Maloney, who has since left the company for another union job. He sent a letter to management contending REC was fostering a hostile work environment.
Addressing the union’s complaint that nonunion employees were favored by giving them wage increases and bonuses denied to union members, the NLRB awarded nearly $225,000 in back pay to eligible workers. With that award, Kelly’s back pay and an additional wage increase and bonus negotiated for this year, the maintenance unit has earned nearly $500,000 since the union election.
REC was forced to post a long notice pledging to refrain from further actions that violate the spirit of the National Labor Relations Act.
Negotiations have since resumed.
“It won’t be easy, but with the strength of the union supporters and negotiations committee, we will win at the bargaining table, just like we won at the NLRB. While the organizing effort may have been difficult and first contract negotiations continue, IBEW 233 looks forward to developing a positive working relationship with the company and showing them it’s a good thing to be a union company,” says Allen.