Union vote fails

YOUNGSTOWN – Representatives of the United Electrical Workers Union say they will be back to renew their fight to organize and represent labor at the two Vallourec Star pipe mills here.

A three-day vote following a year-long campaign failed by a 2-1 margin, it was announced Thursday. The National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, which supervised the election, released a final tally of 148 in favor of unionizing, 367 against. Nearly all of the 531 eligible hourly workers cast ballots.

“We are not going away by any means, and we are going to be back,” said Karen Hardin, international representative for the UE. “We are already putting our future plans into effect. We are not going away.”

The vote came following a year-long campaign by several plant workers and UE representatives. It was at least the fourth attempt to unionize workers at the site. Previous attempts, which also failed, had been attempted by the United Steelworkers.

In a prepared statement released following Thursday’s election tally, Vallourec Star characterized operation as “ongoing investments in our employees and the local community” that the company is proud of.

The company said it “will continue to provide a safe and respectful workplace where pay and benefits programs remain some of the best in the valley and surrounding areas. Our commitment to our employees and to the local community has been, is and will continue to be our culture.”

Hardin admitted she was surprised by the overwhelming defeat but attributed it to the company’s strong anti-union campaign coupled with recent bonuses awarded to workers.

“In the last month they have given almost a million dollars in bonuses to these workers,” Hardin said. “And that’s not counting the money that they spent on the union-busting firm and the money they spent on their attorneys that could have been spent on their workers.”

While the union doesn’t necessarily agree with the tactics taken by the company, the UE will not challenge the election, she said. Under NLRB rules, the sides have seven calendar days to file a challenge.

“Shock and disbelief,” is how 18-year employee Bill Allen described his reaction to the failure. Allen, of Irondale, Jefferson County, volunteered in support of the union.

“We can’t pay someone to come to the union hall, and we are restricted at the plant,” Allen said.

Bonuses, Hardin said, equaled $10.50 per hour for every hour worked in January. That followed a $8.33 per hour bonus in December. The January bonus was the largest workers have received in more than a year, she said.

“All I can say is it’s kind of coincidental how enormously the bonuses have increased,” said 15-month lab technician Chuck Lepowsky of Boardman. Lepowsky said he volunteered hundreds of hours on the union push.

Vallourec Star produces seamless pipe and other products used in the oil and gas industry. The company has operated a pipe mill in Youngstown for 11 years. A second mill was added and dedicated last year. Together the company employs about 820 employees; 531 were eligible to vote on the union representation issue.