Essential workers deserve a good contract, Cottage Grove Steelworkers tell 3M

Members of United Steelworkers Local 11-00418 hold informational picketing outside 3M’s plant in Cottage Grove.

Steelworkers at 3M’s Cottage Grove plant agreed this week to a two-month extension of their previous union contract, but members are putting the company on notice today that the fight for a contract that rewards their essential work has just begun.

Informational picketing outside the plant, where some 370 members of United Steelworkers Local 11-00418 work, drew a large crowd during a shift change early this morning, and union members plan to be back outside for another info-picket this afternoon. 

“Everyone’s together on this,” John Helkamp, the local’s financial secretary, said. “We’re essential workers. We’d like a fair contract.” 

Talks between the two sides got off to a bitter start.  

First, Helkamp said, management took a combative stance over supplying workers with masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. While non-union workers at the plant received free masks, 3M pushed local union leaders to sign a memorandum of understanding before issuing masks to union members – a stance 3M, a global supplier of masks, later walked back, Helkamp said. 

Around the same time, union leaders approached management about an accommodation for workers whose premium pay on weekends was scheduled to disappear abruptly.  

A provision in the previous union contract included premium pay rates for workers who clock 12-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays, but it also included a sunset clause phasing out the provision when the contract expired. That happened this week, and some union members soon will lose as much as 18 hours’ worth of wages from their paychecks.  

“We asked about some kind of an accommodation,” Helkamp said “The company first said it had to be done in negotiations. Then we got to negotiations, and they said it’s not something they’re going to negotiate.” 

Now, Steelworkers are resisting several of 3M’s contract demands, Helkamp said. Management wants the power to change start times and shift lengths at will, which could move all workers into 12-hour shifts. And 3M wants the power to eliminate job classifications unilaterally, an issue that bogged down negotiations four years ago, when management sought to kick custodians out of the bargaining unit.  

In all, 3M brought 100 stipulations to the bargaining table, according to the union. The two sides have reached agreement on roughly 30, with 30 others being set aside for economic talks.  

Those have yet to begin, but local leaders say their talks in Cottage Grove are progressing at about the same pace as negotiations at comparable facilities across the U.S. have taken.  

The two sides have scheduled 11 bargaining sessions during the contract extension, which runs through Oct. 16. 

The Cottage Grove facility produces chemicals, tape, film, abrasives and other products. 

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