‘On the ropes,’ 3M’s Cottage Grove workers say they’re ready to strike

Steelworkers who staff 3M's Cottage Grove plant picket outside corporate headquarters in Maplewood.

Steelworkers who staff 3M’s Cottage Grove plant picket outside corporate headquarters in Maplewood.

 

UPDATE 9/29/16 – United Steelworkers Local 11-00418 announced on its Facebook page that its members will vote on a contract proposal from the company, reached during bargaining Monday.

The local is withholding details of the proposal until the ratification vote Oct. 3, but acknowledged that it made some concessions to the company:

“You all know the company we work for. You know that they didn’t spend all day with us apologizing for the last 3 months. You know that they didn’t see the error in their ways, and offer us a contract with no takeaways.”

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Frustrated by management’s cuts-only approach to contract talks, Steelworkers employed at 3M’s chemicals plant in Cottage Grove voted overwhelmingly Sept. 1 to authorize their bargaining team to call a strike if necessary.

But members of United Steelworkers Local 11-00418 aren’t waiting for a strike to call out 3M publicly.

For the second time this month, workers staged informational picketing outside 3M’s corporate campus in Maplewood today. They have picketed the Cottage Grove plant several times in recent weeks, and union leaders say picketing will continue until workers get the contract they deserve.

“We’re serious,” Local 11-00418 President Mike Schanks said. “We’re not going to give up without a fight.”

The union represents about 380 workers at 3M’s facility, the largest private employer in Cottage Grove. Their previous contract with the company has expired, but in bargaining Friday the two sides agreed to extend the agreement, in seven-day increments, as long as negotiations continue.

Common ground has been hard to come by in talks so far, and workers say it’s because 3M insists on rolling back several key provisions of their previous contract, including premium pay for weekend work and seniority-based layoffs during slowdowns at the plant.

Additionally, the company wants to reduce its contribution to workers’ 401(k) retirement plans – and the power to force workers to take extra shifts without paying overtime wages, even on scheduled days off.

“Right now if you come in on a day off, it’s automatically time and a half,” Steelworkers staff representative Brian Ecker said. “We have concerns about the safety aspect of working 12-hour shifts and then being forced to work on your day off.”

web-3m-usw2Schanks added: “Half of the facility is a chemical factory. We’re concerned about long hours, injuries and spills.”

So far, the company has shown little interest in meeting the union halfway, refusing to take up several proposals workers thought would be easy asks of the company.

“We actually have a proposal on the table about honorably discharged veterans being granted a day off per year – not even with pay, using their vacation – and they won’t even give us that,” Ecker said. “That’s kind of how this has gone. We’ve been on the ropes pretty hard.”

Schanks laughed at the notion 3M needs concessions out of its Cottage Grove workers to stay profitable.

“They’ve got record profits,” he said. But after so many other manufacturers have picked up and left the area for cheaper labor markets abroad, 3M is “kind of using fear as a tactic.”

“They’re being very greedy this time around,” Schanks said. “They want to take the whole pie and leave us a few crumbs.”

Negotiations are scheduled to resume Saturday and, if necessary, next Monday. Schanks said he doesn’t foresee a strike “as long as progress is being made” at the bargaining table.

To find out when and where union members are picketing the company – and join them on the line – monitor Local 11-00418’s Facebook page.

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  1. […] 380 Steelworkers work inside the Cottage Grove facility, and they’ve ramped up their campaign for a fair contract in recent months, hoping to fight off steep concessionary demands from […]

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