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Doors unlock at Snappy for union labor

Back at work: Locked out union workers have returned and are working under their old contract. Ted Fiskevold/Tribune

After being locked out of their workplace at Snappy Air Distribution Products in Detroit Lakes for eight days, 95 workers returned to work at 7 a.m. today. The workers will return without a new contract and will work under the expired 2010 contract.

Ricky England, business agent for the “production shops” of Sheet Metal Workers Local 10, said contract negotiations will resume the last week of March.

Locked out last week

The union workers found the doors of the production shop locked on Monday morning, March 11. “This was no surprise,” explained Joel Matter, shop steward for the Snappy Production Shop unit of Sheet Metal Workers Local 10. “The membership voted down the company’s last contract offer on Friday (March 8). We went to work that Monday reasonably sure that the doors would be locked. We could only enter through the main office door, where Plant Manager Rick Lewis informed us, ‘We’re closed. All doors are locked until the contract is signed.’ At that time, our health insurance stopped and so did our pay.”

Snappy last locked out union workers in 2010 after the union rejected pay cuts.

Unemployment benefits

Minnesota law currently allows locked out workers to receive unemployment compensation as long as they are ready, willing and available to go back to work.

“A bill that will be heard by the legislature this session will allow locked out workers to receive unemployment insurance payments as long as they are locked out,” said Mark Froemke Western Minnesota AFL-CIO president. “The bill is sponsored in the House by Rep. Joe Atkins from the Cities and in the Senate by Senator David Tomassoni from the Range.”

Atkins is from Inver Grove Heights, Tomassoni is from Chisholm and both are DFL.

Froemke is also a member of the Grain Millers division of the BCT&GM Union that represents the Crystal Sugar workers who have been locked out of plants in Minnesota and North Dakota for over 18 months.

Blue Wolf bought Snappy

Snappy was purchased by an investment company called Blue Wolf over a year ago. A Feb. 23, 2012 press release on Blue Wolf’s website explains that Blue Wolf Capital LLC, known as Blue Wolf, “entered into an agreement with Standex International to acquire Standex’s Air Distribution Product Group (SADPG), a leader in the design and manufacture of galvanized steel duct products which distribute conditioned air throughout HVAC systems in residential and light commercial buildings.”

The SADPG basically consists of a headquarters in Philadelphia and five facilities in Oregon, New York, Georgia, Texas and of course the plant in Detroit Lakes.

A memo from Human Resources Director Melissa Kosmin in April of 2012 came from Philadelphia and informed union members in the Detroit Lakes Production Shop that SADPG would be known as Snappy Air Distribution Products henceforth. Snappy has always been colloquially referred to as “Snappy.” in DL.

The union and the issues

Sheet Metal Workers Local 10 is headed by Business Manager Jim Bowman and represents all of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

“Blue Wolf, the new parent company of Snappy, buys companies for the purpose of selling them. Their guy from Philadelphia, Cal (Douglas) told us that right in negotiations,” Bowman said in a phone interview on Friday. “Cal told us ‘We are an investment group now.’” Douglas is the general manager of all five plants in Snappy ADP.

According to Bowman, about 70 of the 95 union member workers have been at Snappy for at least 25 years.

The issues that have stalled contract negations at Snappy ADP in Detroit Lakes are wages and health insurance.

“In 2010 our members got no pay increase and 18 members took drastic concessions. Now, in 2013, the last offer from the company included a pay freeze for three more years and an increase in health insurance costs by four percent,” Bowman said.  “Currently, workers pay 26 per cent of health insurance. That would increase to 30 percent over the next three years.  The membership voted it down 77-16. There was no strike vote called. Snappy locked us out. Now we need to keep these families going.”

Bowman also pointed out that a prior offer from Snappy that kept the “insurance the same but included a bonus system with the pay freeze” was rejected by the membership. “I asked them (management) if that offer still stood they said ‘no.’”

Rank and file negotiators

Matter called a meeting of the area members of the negotiating team on Monday —one week after the lockout began. Weather prohibited two members from attending.

Steve Maves and Tom Heurung met Matter at the 59er Café. Together the three men have logged in 102 years of making furnace ducts at Snappy in Detroit Lakes. Maves lives in Vergas and has worked at Snappy for 25 years.

Matter lives in DL and started at Snappy 35 years ago when he was 18 and fresh out of high school and fresh off the family farm in rural Callaway.

Heurung is a 42-year Snappy veteran and also lives in DL. Huerung started at Snappy in 1971 and said “the Sheet Metal Workers were representing us when I started. I think Snappy has been union since the mid-60’s.”

The three are also a wealth of Snappy history. Snappy got started in DL in 1955 and a few years later built the facility over on Legion Road where Broadway Welding is currently located (over by Snappy Park). Both Matter and Heurung worked in the old plant and were involved with the move to the new plant in the original Detroit Lakes industrial park, where Snappy has remained since 1988.

“Our wages prior to 2010 began at $12 an hour for entry level after probation and topped off at $17.90 for all members,” Matter explained. “Our 2010 contract ended up with two tiers.  Tier 1 pays $12 to $17.90 for those grandfathered in so to speak, and included 65 members of the rank and file workforce.

“Tier 2 covered any new members in the rank and file and it pays $12 to $14.50. At the time of the 2010 negotiations, we had some members laid off and we negotiated to have those members brought back to work, but they would be brought back at Tier 2 pay.”

Maves was one of those brought back from layoff.  “I am making less money now than I did 12 years ago. I was starting to get ahead, but went backwards in 2010 and I’m still going backwards,” Maves explained.

“We are hoping that the concessions that we gave up in 2010 would be regained in our 2013 contract,” Huerung added. “The Tier 2 workers also took a 50 percent reduction in pension in 2010.”

Matter clarified that prior to 2010 all members earned pension at the rate of $1 per hour. “The Tier 1 members took concessions in 2010 also—a 3½ percent reduction the first year and two percent the second year,” Matter said. “

Lead workers and maintenance workers get an additional 75 cents per hour, Heurung said. “Steve and I are two of six leads and Joel is one of four maintenance workers.”

Maves sighed. “Prior to the 2010 contract, prior to March of 2010, I was making $18.65 an hour.”

The three men also conversed about voluntary overtime which is offered to both Tier 1 and Tier 2 workers and is paid at time and a half.

Workers are offered two hours of overtime work daily and six hours on Saturday.  We have not run more than one shift since the big layoffs between the 2007 and 2010 contracts, I think, Matter recalled

“The local management and our plant manager Rick Lewis—they all came up through the rank and file,” Matter said.

“We’re like a big family and we all get along,” Maves said. “The local workers, the local management, the business agent for Local 10 —Ricky England —we all get along. The concessions we took were kind of like taking it for the team...”

“But we need to get caught back up now,” Huerung added.

“And, they (Standex) were supposed to put money back into the building and the plant ... and they didn’t,” Matter said.

A call to work

Matter received a call from England on Tuesday morning. “Ricky told me the lockout is over and union members are to return to work tomorrow morning. We will work under the 2010 contract until the 2013 contract is settled and ratified,” Matter reported in a phone interview. “I believe our (health) insurance will resume at midnight tonight. It is good to know that we’re not replaceable by temporary workers.”

“Getting back to work with a ratified contract, wages and insurance benefits is the most speculation I want to make when we resume contract negotiations the last week of March,” England said by phone.

Management responds

“As of tomorrow we are ending the lockout. Workers are to report back at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning,” DL Snappy Plant Manager Rick Lewis said Tuesday afternoon in his office. “I’m not at liberty to give you any more information than that. Call Human Resources Director Melissa Kosmin if you have any questions. She’s in Portland but she checks her Philadelphia phone regularly. Negotiations will go on again.”

A call to Kosmin’s phone was not returned by press time.

Article written by Ted Fiskevold Special to the Tribune