TORONTO-United Steelworkers of America will try to unionize a Royal Plastics Group Ltd. vinyl siding plant when it relocates to Newbern, Tenn., according to a USWA official. Royal announced July 14 that it plans to move one of its two siding plants, both of which are in the Toronto area, to Tennessee to make it more cost-competitive.
The USWA unionized the Royalguard Vinyl Co. operation, and workers there recently were awarded their first collective agreement. Royalguard expects to complete the move from the Toronto suburb of Vaughan by late October.
``It's obvious [the Royalguard operation] is a runaway,'' said Joe Kiker, director of USWA District 9, which includes Tennessee and several other Southeastern states. ``We will try to help our Canadian brothers.''
Royal officials earlier denied union charges that the move is to avoid unionization at Royalguard's 140-employee plant and to intimidate other Royal workers from organizing. Royal officials would not comment on Kiker's assertion that the USWA will follow Royalguard to Tennessee.
Royal officials also insist that a few other Royal plants are unionized, but would not provide details. Royal has about 40 plants extruding vinyl building products such as window profiles, pipe, siding, vertical blinds and components for new modular storage sheds and houses.
At least two of Royalguard's local competitors are unionized under USWA. Vinyl siding producers Gentek Building Products Inc. in Mississauga, Ontario, and BPCO Inc. of Acton, Ontario, are among more than 20 plastics operations in Ontario represented by USWA locals.
Kiker said USWA has resisted other plant relocations to Tennessee by firms avoiding unions. He said his union is fighting Bayou Steel to prevent relocation of a steel mill from Laplace, La., to Rockwood, Tenn. Kiker said the Laplace mill has been on strike for two years and USWA is fighting the relocation on Bayou Steel's allegedly poor environmental record in Louisiana.
Kiker said the USWA, with more than 16,000 members in Tennessee, has a ``strong organization'' in the state. However, he added that the union has some disadvantages there, including Tennessee's right-to-work law, and anti-union positions by some local governments that are trying to attract new businesses.
USWA spokesman Howard Scott said about 19 percent of Tennessee's work force is unionized, a level consistent with the national average.
Scott said his union intends to be a ``major player in the plastics industry'' following the recent merger of the USWA and the United Rubber Workers of America.
``This merger makes organization in plastics more important,'' Scott said in a telephone interview from USWA headquarters in Pittsburgh.
As many as 15,000 former URW workers are in plastics, estimated Curt Brown, a spokesman at the former URW headquarters in Akron, Ohio. The URW had about 94,000 members.
About 2 percent of USWA's 600,000 members prior to the merger are in plastics and rubber, Scott said.
Steelworkers membership at its height was about 1.2 million in the mid-1970s. URW had 175,000 members in 1980. Membership of both unions declined in the early 1980s.
Brown said the plastics industry ``is highly unorganized and highly underpaid.'' He did not expect the merged union to place special emphasis on plastics but ``we would anticipate seeing stronger organizing in former jurisdictions of URW.''
Continuing the union merger trend that started with the Steelworker and URW, the USWA, the United Auto Workers and the International Association of Machinists announced July 27 that they had agreed to merge their unions by the year 2000 to create the largest union in North America with 2 million active and 1.4 million retired members.
Plastics News staff reporter John Couretas contributed to this story.