A nearly three-month-long lockout involving 35 workers at a Three Forks-area talc milling plant is over. The union employees of the French-owned Imerys Talc America will be back on the job Monday.
The talc-mill lockout may be over, but according to Randy Tocci, divisions in Three Forks continue and run deep.
“We’re going to have to rebuild. There’s some fraction in the town because supervisors crossing the line are in there doing our work. We weren’t appreciative of it.”
Tocci is President of Boilermakers International Union Local D-239. He says it may take a long time to get over some of those hard feelings.
“It’s not going to happen overnight and it’s not going to happen in a few years. It’s going to take time. The town is – it’s going to be scarred for a while. Eventually, we’ll move on and get through some of this stuff, but it’s definitely going to change some of the dynamics of the community.”
Tocci says the thaw in the 90-day stalemate between Imerys and it’s locked out union employees started last Thursday.
“They brought in some new players in on their negotiating team, and we went back to the table and they put forth some proposals that were, with a little tweaking were acceptable to us.”
Imerys did not respond to Montana Public Radio’s request for an interview.
The labor dispute started back in August during contract negotiations. The union says the company presented an offer with demands that included elimination of overtime pay as well as elimination of certain health insurance and retirement benefits.
Tocci says the new contract protects seniority while simultaneously considering skills in applying for jobs and will continue to provide health benefits to retirees who leave the company through 2019. Workers will get a 3-percent raise in base pay, but their pensions will be frozen.
Tocci says the union workers didn’t get everything they wanted, but are generally satisfied with the agreement and look forward to getting back to work and off the picket line.
“It’s not like working. It’s a lot of boredom, tedium and stress on you everyday. It’s totally different stress than you would have on a normal [work] day. Going home and trying to unwind, that’s hard to do. But I couldn’t be prouder of the guys we had out here. We stood together, we had each other’s back and now we can move forward and start a new chapter going on.”
News that the lockout had come to an end was met with messages of congratulations from both sides of the political aisle Wednesday.
Democrats, including Senator Jon Tester, U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams and Governor Steve Bullock released statements or tweeted out their messages of support.
They were joined by Republicans, including Congressman Greg Gianforte, Senator Steve Daines and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox.
Tocci says that while all the messages of support were nice, Montana Democrats really stepped up to the plate for the locked-out workers.
“Those group of Democrats that were out here many times supporting us, I think helped drive the message home to Imerys. I’m positive Jon Tester’s bill that he’s introduced – the PICKET Act – got the attention of Imerys that, holy cow, somebody would try to take something away from us and do it through Congress, you know. So I feel that did have influence on the company.”
Tester introduced the Prohibiting Incentives for Corporations that Kick out Employees Tax, or PICKET Act, in early October. It would eliminate tax breaks, reductions and credits for corporations that lock out their workers during a labor dispute.