Company, Workers, Community Divided

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Loudon, Loudon County (WVLT) - Both sides are claiming victory, even though the judge essentially has ruled a contempt charge a draw.

Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd takes a look at what's behind that, and the rising tensions as the strike nears its third week.

Finances drive much of the frustration as some 200 union pickets have traded, roughly, 13 bucks an hour wages for $150 a week in strike benefits. But the first checks don't come out until Monday.

"You got friends who work in there, you got friends who are striking, you got friends who work in there, you got friends who don't strike, it's a tough situation," says Elmer Collier, who is striking against Maremont after 35 years.

Sherry and Elmer hope Loudon County folks will see that they're striking Maremont on principle.

But after 18 days, "we got families to support and bills to pay, we want our jobs back," Elmer says.

Friday, those tensions find air in court, secured with police officers, where a judge determines a Maremont worker likely had her car vandalized, but that Maremont hasn't proven a former Loudon Police officer was the striker who threw the rock.

"The facts in this case are at least equally balanced," says Chancellor Frank Weaver.

"I think whoever throwed the rock should have faced up to it instead of me having to carry all the burden when I wasn't even there," says Shawn Biven.

"There are people who are not eligible to join the union, and we don't have any animosity towards them at all," says Dale Smallen from Machinist Local #2545.

"But as far as people who were called back from layoff?" Gordon asks.

"They are replacement workers, they are taking their jobs," Smallen says.

Union leaders promise pickets will strike to the judge's rules. No more than 3 pickets per plant entrance. But the numbers game soon may be moot.

"The balls in their court to make an offer," Michael Moschel, Maremont's attorney says. "So far the company has replaced, has hired, 156 permanent replacements."

"What incentive do you have to go back to the bargaining table?" Gordon asks Maremont's owner.

I think these are really good people, I want to grow this facility, these are talented folks with lots of experience," Kenneth Banks says.

Maremont's owner says his customers give him little room to give.

But even if it means working somewhere else, for less, Elmer Collier says he still won't cross the line. "I won't back down on my friends. People in there don't know what friendship is, I know what it is."

Neither Maremont nor the union will say how many of the replacement workers are strikers who crossed the lines.

Maremont has fired Shawn Biven, the striker accused of rock throwing and lawyers say he may face criminal charges.

Maremont lawyers also claim that one worker has had his car burned. Another suffering a house fire, but they're not accusing any strikers directly, of either, yet.

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