More than 250 East Tennessee auto plant workers are headed straight to the picket line tomorrow night. The workers are from the Maremont plant in Loudon, presenting the company with the first strike in its 130 year history.
The Loudon plant is Maremont's flagship. It produces mufflers, catalytic converters, factory replacement exhaust pipes, and performance pipes for after market customizers. Several of the plants workers have been on the payroll since it opened 38 years ago, and the least senior employees still have a decade at the plant on their résumé's. But the workers unrest has been building recently as a result the plant changing hands.
"We were purchased by IMCO from Shulenberg Texas earlier last year, and we started negotiating concessions," according to Dale Smallen, a member of the International Machinists Local #2545. "We've never had a strike, this is our first."
The International Muffler Company, otherwise known as IMCO recently offered IML #2425 a 1-year deal collective bargaining agreement that it's members turned down. Union leaders said it was rejected because it would have cutback pension plans, changed the 401K and made work rules less dependent on seniority.
Union leaders say the 1-year-deal their members rejected would have cutback pension plans, changed the 401k and made work rules less dependent on
seniority. But there was one other factor that ended the talks with a strike.
"Negotiations pretty much broke down over health care," according to Smallen. "The company is going to shift almost the whole burden of health care to the employees."
The shift in the health care costs is significant, increasing the cost of premiums to the tune of a 350 percent according to Smallen.
He summed up the situation saying it, "almost felt like we were backed into a corner and we are not ready to give anything else."
So come Monday at mid-night the machinists on Maremont's line will go on strike.
We have not yet been able to reach IMCO, so it is not clear whether the management will try to operate with replacement workers, or move production to another plant.