A 136-day-old strike at Wess Plastic Inc. ended June 13 when a majority of its workers voted not to be represented by the Teamsters Union Local 202. On June 13, the union finally lost its battle for Wess' Hauppauge, N.Y., plant in a 38-34 vote.
But Oscar Gonzalez, a spokes-man for Local 202, accused the injection molding firm of using labor's expired contract to get rid of the union altogether.
``As far as the union is concerned, it was a union-busting tactic from the beginning,'' Gonzalez said.
Wess replaced 32 production workers who walked out of its Hauppauge plant Jan. 29, after contract negotiations stalled. Seven more union workers chose to remain on the job.
Many of the strikers were women, most of whom worked in Wess' assembly operations, said Bruce Wessinger, company president. They also included some press operators and warehouse people, he said.
Wessinger said it took about two weeks to hire and retrain new employees.
``We're still making up the backlog,'' he said, noting it should be business as usual by the end of the month.
Gonzalez claims that Wess ensured a win for management by hiring in six or seven workers more than the number that went on strike.
``They stacked the deck,'' Gonzalez said. ``Fair is replacing the same number of people. That's giving an equal footing to both sides. If you hire more people, you're assuring yourself that you're going to win.''
But Wessinger said he hired 34 people: ``We hired the amount of workers that we needed,'' he said.
Talks began before the union contract expired Oct. 21, and ran into December, but the two sides could not reach an accord. Despite the help of a federal mediator in January, they could not agree on several key points, including a medical benefits package and a contract clause that would have allowed new employees not to join the union. Even that effort was thwarted temporarily by the federal government's shutdown.
When the union tried a second mediation about five weeks into the strike, ``the company didn't show up,'' Gonzalez said.
But Wessinger said the union had not responded to the company's request for specific suggestions, so ``we thought it was a waste of time.''
On April 4, Wess' replacement workers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to decertify the union. That vote, held last month, ousted the local.
According to Gonzalez, most of the 32 displaced workers had been with Wess anywhere from 8-22 years.
It took Wess eight weeks to return to full production after the walkout, Wessinger said. Outside of a few slashed tires and the distress of more than three months of picket lines, he said the company weathered the strike pretty well, losing only one full day to downtime.
Wess does about $1.42 million in custom molding business an-nually for a variety of markets. It operates 14 presses and employs 75.