Hartley Manufacturing Co., a plastics recycling company with reported contractual ties to DuPont Co. of Wilmington, Del., is facing a possible strike by members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union.
Workers at the Ravenswood, W.Va., plant voted May 16 and 17 to authorize their union committee to call a strike at any time. The union had not called a strike as of press time, according to Gary Basler, an employee and member of the local union's negotiating committee.
``The ball's in [management's] court,'' he said. ``If they back off and treat us like human beings with dignity, we may be able to negotiate and try to get a contract.''
The strike threat comes after more than 20 months of unsuccessful contract negotiations and numerous unfair labor allegations against the company, said Roger Bradley, OCAW regional director.
``The company has committed so many unfair labor charges, we've had to try to resolve some of those issues along the way,'' Bradley said. He added that Hartley has been ``intransigent in negotiations.''
``[Union workers] have filed a lot of unfair labor practices, certainly,'' said company President Bo Hartley. ``We don't feel most of the charges have merit.''
Hartley said the unfair labor charges mostly were workers' responses to disciplinary action.
``I guess what they're saying is we are not supposed to be concerned when we try to enforce safety rules and production rules that affect the ability of this company to grow and prosper,'' Hartley said, adding that each employee signed a company policy book delineating disciplinary policies.
A federal administrative law judge is considering the charges after several weeks of hearings in Ripley, W.Va.
Hartley Manufacturing recycles nylon and other plastics for DuPont, according to news reports.
While DuPont does not own or control Hartley, Bradley said DuPont is Hartley's major—if not only — supplier of raw material.
A DuPont spokesman declined to comment on what he called ``another company's business.''
Hartley—who would not confirm or deny that DuPont is the company's sole customer — warned some decisions about the plant's future were beyond his control.
``We are a subcontractor,'' he said. ``As such, we obviously have to supply our customer. If [the union workers] choose to create a work stoppage and we don't supply our customer, I'll let you and them draw [your] own conclusions.''
The plant has been in operation since 1984 and has benefited from state-backed, low-interest economic development loans.
When the plant opened, more than 1,300 workers—some camping overnight outside company headquarters — sought applications for 60 new jobs, according to news reports at the time.
Hartley's hourly employees voted 91-51 to unionize in September 1995.
The OCAW was been fairly active — and unusually successful — in organizing plastics plants from 1984-95, according to union election records from the National Labor Relations Board.
The union staged at least 15 elections in the plastics industry during that time, winning nine and losing six, based on standard industrial classification codes supplied with the voting records.
Most unions had a much harder time organizing plastics plants during that time, winning elections only 32 percent of the time. That rate compares to a 45 percent win rate for unions in all industries.