About 450 workers at the Sherwin Alumina refinery near Corpus Christi, Texas have been locked out of their jobs.
After months of negotiations between the company and the workers’ union, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 235-A, Sherwin Alumina made a last best final offer containing a number of concession demands.
Local 235-A members on October 10 rejected the offer but said that they would keep working while negotiations continued.
But at 5:00 P.M. on October 11, company officials informed their union workers that they were being locked out.
In a message to members before the lockout began, USW said that, Sherwin “is seeking to freeze the defined benefit pension, eliminate retiree health care, and make significant changes to active employees health care, just to name a few of the concessionary proposals put forth so far.”
In its final offer, the company proposed eliminating pensions for new hires, increasing workers’ monthly health insurance premiums by 60 percent, and changing the way overtime is calculated so that fewer hours of work are paid at overtime rates.
Negotiations on the new contract began in July, but no final agreement was reached when the old agreement expired on September 30.
Despite the expiration, the union said that its members would work under the terms of the old agreement, so that negotiations could continue.
But after the contract expiration date passed, it became clear to union leaders that the company wasn’t interested in negotiations and instead was preparing to lock out its workers.
“Sherwin Alumina has been preparing to lock its employees out from work for over a month at a cost, we believe, of more than a million dollars,” said Ben Lilienfeld, USW District 13 sub-district director in a statement about the lockout. “It has brought in hundreds of replacement workers and contractors from outside the area to undermine the wages and benefits of area workers and families.”
It appears that Sherwin had been preparing for a lockout even longer than the union said.
In June, Sherwin held a “recruitment event” in McAllen, Texas about 160 miles east of Corpus Christi. At the event, the company took applications for four craft positions: maintenance mechanic, electrician, instrument mechanic, and machinist.
In August, the company partnered with Workforce Solutions of the Coastal Bend to host another recruitment event where the company took applications for entry level production operators. Workforce Solutions is a private agency that contracts with the Texas Workforce Commission to provide regional job placement services.
After the lockout began, Sherwin said that it would continue to operate the refinery.
At its Corpus Christi area refinery, Sherwin Alumina extracts alumina from bauxite. Alumina is the key ingredient in the manufacture of aluminum. It also makes chemical grade alumina hydrates, which are used for making detergents, pharmaceuticals, and other consumer products.
Sherwin Alumina, a private company that isn’t required to report earnings and other financial information, is a subsidiary of Glencore PLC.
Glencore is an Anglo Swiss corporation with holdings all over the world. It operates more than 150 mines and metallurgical, oil, and agricultural production facilities that produce more than 90 different commodities. It has offices in more than 50 countries.
It’s ranked number 10 on Fortune’s Global 500 list of the world’s largest companies.
For the first half of 2014, it reported total net income of 3.73 billion, up 55 percent for the same period in 2013 when it reported total net income of 2.505 billion.
According to Reuben Garza, USW District 13 director, Glencore’s subsidiary Sherwin Alumina is doing well for its parent company, and its concession demands are not driven by a business downturn.
“This company is profitable,” said Garza, responding to notification that the company was locking out its production workers. “Price forecasts for alumina are positive. Worker productivity is up and labor costs per metric ton of alumina are down.”
“Company representatives have recently stated that their employees are like family,” added Garza. “The company’s actions today speak louder than its words.”