GIRARD - Supporters of an effort to unionize Vallourec Star in Youngstown gathered at a news conference Saturday in advance of next week's election.
More than 500 workers will begin voting Tuesday in a government-supervised election to determine whether they will be represented by the United Electrical Workers Union (UE), which is run by the members and overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB.
Attending Saturday's press conference was a delegation of Vallourec workers from France, where the company is headquartered, who came to show their support of the union organizing campaign.
Christian Pilichowski, international secretary and board member of Metalworkers' Federation in France, said he and other French workers were present to ensure that Vallourec is living up to a global agreement they signed that states they will be neutral when it comes to workers' attempts to unionize.
"We are here to see if it is the intent of the workforce to be unionized. We want Vallourec to respect and abide by the agreement they have signed here," he said.
Supporters of the union say there are various ways that Vallourec does not respect its employees, including implementing a two-tier wage system; abolishing pension benefits for new hires; freezing pension benefits for senior employees; eliminating a Sunday premium for 12-hour-shift workers; promoting a system of favoritism instead of seniority; slashing health care for retirees; and increasing insurance premiums.
Supporters of a union at Vallourec Star in Youngstown speak at a news conference Saturday. From left, are Phillippe Burette, of the European Works Council; Dave Lorenzi, a Vallourec worker; Christian Pilichowski, international secretary of Metalworkers’ Federation in France; Bill Allen, of Vallourec; and Yohann Delbauve, secretary of the Central Works Council at Vallourec in France. Photo by Bonnie Hazen
A local spokesman released the following prepared statement on behalf of Vallourec.
"We recognize employees on both sides of this issue have been passionate in their views, and they are expressing their opinions in a variety of ways. Vallourec Star has allowed employees to express those opinions, whether those opinions are for or against the union. The company has respected and complied with all of our legal obligations. We have treated all of our employees with dignity and respect and will continue to do so, regardless of their opinions about unionization."
Citing a huge anti-union campaign and "mind games," UE International Representative Karen Hardin said if there were no such tactics employed by the company, 95 percent of Vallourec workers would vote in favor of a union.
"All they're asking for is respect, to have a voice and to have a union contract," she said. "Why are they fighting it so hard? They're afraid. There's no reason."
"While we support the rights of employees to choose whether they wish to organize a union, we do not believe this would add value, foster teamwork or add to the competitiveness of the company," said Judson Wallace, president of Vallourec Star, in a statement.
This isn't the first time workers have sought to unionize.
Bill Allen, who has worked as a mechanic at the mill for more than 18 years, said this is the fourth pro-union campaign of which he has been a part. The last vote, which occurred 12 years ago and before Vallourec bought the mill, was defeated by only five votes.
He said Vallourec will benefit from a union because workers "are going to go out and give it 110 percent to make sure that they have a good quality product."
In response to the question, "What about workers who don't want to unionize," Allen said, "It didn't change my work ethic any; it didn't change my productivity, either. We didn't have a choice to be non-union."
Staughton Lynd , a retired labor lawyer who represented workers at US Steel when the company closed the mill, said he wants to support Vallourec workers in memory of two friends who were former workers for the company.
"I know how much they would have wished the workers well," he said.
Lynd said the workers should become members of the UE because "it is the most democratic and militant union in the United States, to my knowledge," he said.
Robin Alexander, International Affairs director for the UE, spearheaded the effort to bring Pilichowski and other workers over from France.
"Our union believes strongly in international solidarity. My job is to establish relationships with unions around the world. We contacted the union in France, and they were terrific. They said, 'We strongly support the organization's campaign and we want to show our solidarity. That's why they're here," she said.
Hardin said the UE represents about 35,000 workers in the U.S. Results of the election will be tallied Thursday, she said, after the last of the 531 Youngstown workers vote.
Vallourec worker Dave Lorenzi, who has worked for the company for nearly 18 years, was in support of the efforts to start a union 12 years ago when the plant was called Northstar Steel and owned by Cargil. He said the only reason the vote failed before was because workers were afraid.
Lorenzi said this vote will be different because it will be a better representation of what the workers actually want.
Lab technician for Vallourec and key organizer for the union campaign Chuck Lepowsky said he was turned toward the union effort because of things he heard from other workers.
"We want the right to be represented," he said. "I'm confident (the union will form), but you never know."
Vallourec Star LP is a leading producer of seamless pipe, tubular product, and coupling stock for the oil and gas industry. Vallourec Star has operated a pipe mill in Youngstown for the past 11 years. The site currently employs approximately 820 employees.
VAM USA LLC, a subsidiary of Vallourec Star, is considering the addition of an $81.5 million threading and finishing mill in the 1000 block of Ohio Works Drive in Youngstown.