AGY workers protest in front of Aiken plant

Workers picket Aiken's AGY plant after being locked out of their jobs amid a standoff over proposed contract changes that would reduce vacation and overtime pay and get rid of seniority.

Calvin Creech has spent 10 years reporting to work at the AGY plant in Aiken. But when he tried to enter the workplace at midnight Friday, Creech said, he was turned away.

 

“When I was coming in, I was stopped by the deputy and (told) we are on a lockout,” said Creech, a specialist at the glass fiber manufacturing facility on Wagener Road. “That means we have to turn around because we have no job. It makes me feel like crap.”

Creech and several of his hourly co-workers, all members of the Teamsters Local Union No. 509, stood in front of the facility at mid-morning Friday protesting a proposed new labor contract that would cut employees’ vacation, holiday and overtime pay; get rid of plant seniority; change the attendance policy; and enforce random drug and alcohol tests.

“It is a slap in the face,” Creech said. “We give up a lot of our time.”

According to a memo to local union members from President L.D. Fletcher, the union’s negotiating committee had worked with AGY from March 24 to May 1 trying to create a new labor agreement. The memo said the company also wanted changes to the existing contract that would eliminate the maintenance apprenticeship program, allow unlimited use of subcontractors and change the leave of absence policy.

“With this many unacceptable company proposals, we haven’t even discussed wages,” said the letter, which was given to The Augusta Chronicle by one of the picketing union members.

“As part of the company strategy, management has made the decision to bring in temporary employees to observe the plant process,” the letter said.

Local Teamsters directed questions to Fletcher, who has not returned messages.

Creech, who has one daughter in college in Albany, Ga., said he works a seven-day shift at the facility and tries to pick up overtime hours when possible.

“This is our livelihood,” he said.

The first wave of picketers arrived on site about 6 a.m. Friday, switching out about every three hours. Union members said they planned to remain in front of the plant every day for 24 hours until there’s a resolution.

As protestors, some of whom have worked at the site for 27 years, held signs that read “AGY Locked Me Out,” chanted, “We want our jobs,” and waved to passing motorists, they received several honks in return.

By noon, about 30 picketers were positioned on three corners in front of the plant. Two patrol cars from the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office blocked the entrance. A deputy called AGY representatives inside the plant to see whether they’d like to speak with media, but they refused.

AGY, once known as Ad­vanced Glassfiber Yarns, is a worldwide producer of glass fiber yarns and high-strength glass fiber reinforcements with offices in Asia and Europe. Glass yarn is used in products ranging from ballistic armor, insulation and aircraft wings to archery bows and surfboards.

The Aiken plant employs about 600 salaried and hourly workers, according to picketers. The business was started by neighboring glass manufacturer Owens Corning, which decided to get out of the glass fiber reinforcements and yarns markets business.

AGY was launched in 1998 as a joint venture and became independent in 2004.

In November, AGY sold its Hunt­ing­don, Pa., fiberglass plant to a capital management group as part of a strategy to concentrate on its core fine glass fiber yarns business. Huntingdon produced continuous filament mat used to make electrical insulation panels and composite parts for automotive interiors.

In 2011, Owens Corning workers, represented by the same union, went on strike for a month over lower wages for new hires and a pension freeze.

 

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