Ongoing strike at Caldwell plant

A strike at International Converter in Caldwell that started Sunday at midnight has continued through the week without an agreement being reached.

The strike was initiated by UMWA Local Union 4826 because of unfair labor practices, said Phil Smith, director of communications for the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).

“We had asked for information regarding economic matters that came up in negotiations, which (the company) refused to provide,” he said. “It’s difficult for us to gauge economic proposals if we don’t have the information.”

The Caldwell location of the company is responsible for laminating, printing, embossing, coating, sheeting and slitting. Many of the materials include foil laminate and specialty barrier and sealant coatings.

International Converter employs 60 workers at its Caldwell location, one of three across the country.

“Three are probationary employees,” Smith said. “They are actually not on strike; they would lose their jobs. The other 57 are on strike.”

The workers have agreed to “fight one day longer than the company if they have to,” as stated in a UMWA press release Thursday.

UMWA International District 31 Vice President Mike Caputo said in the release that the strike is unwanted but workers feel it is necessary.

“Nobody wanted this strike,” he said. “But our members felt like they had no other choice. These experienced, professional workers strongly believe the company isn’t willing to recognize the decades of hard work and craftsmanship they have put in to make International Converter a profitable company.”

Joe Hill, 56, of Caldwell, is one such worker that has been with the company for nearly 37 years and is also past president of the local union. He said the last few years have been difficult.

“Over the last three years, we lost maybe one-third of our workforce,” he said. “We do more work and have more hours. We have 13 days on, one off. It wouldn’t be bad if the company showed some appreciation. If you’re going to sacrifice your personal life and your family life, you should be well-compensated. You want to know you’re appreciated.”

Smith said negotiations have been ongoing.

“We had a bargaining session (Wednesday),” he said, adding he thought a bargaining session had been planned for Thursday.

Hill said that there had been no contact between the union and the company by Thursday evening, but despite that everyone is in good spirits.

“Everybody’s doing above and beyond their duty,” he said. “Everybody’s in high spirits and hoping for a quick outcome.”

Todd Stewart, 49, of Caldwell, recording secretary for the union, has worked at the company for about seven years and is serving as a member of the negotiating committee.

“There are several items we discussed,” Stewart said. “There are 39 articles in the contract…It’s kind of an inch by inch thing; they give a little, we give a little.”

He said it’s been hard sitting in on negotiations, representing so many others.

“Our major problem is not only appreciation but little respect,” he said. “I don’t think they realize they have two employees from the facility at the table with them. It’s disheartening to hear…basically, you’re just a number.”

Stewart said though the employees don’t want the strike, it’s something they feel they have to do.

“We all take pride in our work,” he said. “We have to stand up for what we believe and what we think is right. We are 57 strong.”

Smith said the goal is to work with the company.

“We’re going to get back in touch with the company and discuss their proposals,” he said.

Hill said that most likely another bargaining session would be held early next week and that next Friday a vigil is planned on the picket lines.

“On May 23, we’re going to hold a prayer vigil,” he said. “It’s open to the public. We’re going to have a nice little group down here…We want to continue to see (the company) be a leader in the industry and we want to be a part of it…We’re hoping we can work things out in a fair manner.”

The union has filed several unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board, including some that allege the company has refused to follow the law during bargaining processes that preceded the strike.

Calls to International Converter were not returned Wednesday or Thursday.