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United States: Imerys locks out Montana talc workers

13 September, 2018Thirty-five members of Boilermakers Local D239 in Three Forks, Montana, have been locked out of an Imerys talc plant since 2 August 2018, after rejecting the company’s contract proposal to slash benefits and undermine working conditions. Among other demands, the company wants to freeze defined benefit pensions, end health care benefits for future retirees and gut established seniority protections.

Since May, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union, has been trying to reach an agreement with Imerys Talc America, owner of Three Forks plant. Unfortunately, the company demonstrated a complete disregard towards its employees and is adamant to slash benefits for workers despite more than $1 million in monthly profits delivered by this particular unit.

“It’s important to understand that we were not seeking anything new or anything ‘more’ under a new contract,”

says Boilermakers Local D239 union president Randy Tocci, who has worked for the Three Forks talc mill for 38 years.

“What Imerys repeatedly offered actually would remove benefits from people who have worked hard there for decades and have been counting on those benefits. We’ve been locked out because of corporate greed, pure and simple.”

Tocci explained that the union first faced problems with management in 2011, when the French multinational Imerys acquired Luzenac Group, a subsidiary of the mining giant Rio Tinto. In addition to the Three Forks mill, Imerys acquired a second talc mill in Sappington and the Yellowstone talc mine near Ennis. Imerys currently owns 270 industrial sites in 50 countries of the world and employs 18,300 workers.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock visited the locked-out workers on their picket line and wrote a letter to Giorgio La Motta, general manager of Imerys Talc North America, requesting an end to the lockout and resumption of negotiations. U.S. Senator Jon Tester has also visited the workers. U.S. Senator Steve Daines and other politicians have expressed their support for the D239 members as well. Support has also poured in from the local community, local and state labour bodies, unionists from across the United States, IndustriALL Global Union and other international unions.

The company’s Code of Conduct published on their website reads that “Imerys respects and supports the dignity, wellbeing and rights of Group employees, their families and the communities in which they live, as well as others affected by the Group's operations.” Also, on their website the company says about their social focus, that they “Develop the professional and personal capabilities of our employees, provide them with appropriate benefits, promote workplace diversity and maintain industrial relations by fostering an environment of mutual respect.

Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL Global Union materials industries director, comments:

“Imerys makes declarations about respecting rights and wellbeing of their employees, promising appropriate benefits and mutually respectful industrial relations. But all these are empty words if Montana management does not stop the lockout and restart the negotiations in good faith. We urge corporate management to remind their US leadership of their own code of conduct. The actual situation is unacceptable, and this behaviour is not worthy of a France-based multinational with a social conscience.”