Kennametal Union Workers: Contract or else

  • Union workers and supporters rally at Kennametal in front of the company’s Sanderson Street offices Friday in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Chad McGinnis, international representative for the northeast region of UE, yells into a microphone as union workers and supporters rally at Kennametal in front of the company’s Sanderson Street offices Friday in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Union workers and supporters rally at Kennametal in front of the company’s Sanderson Street offices. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Union workers and supporters rally at Kennametal. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Union workers and supporters at Kennametal. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Union workers and supporters rally in the pouring rain. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Shop steward Jason McGrath and Chad McGinnis at the rally. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Andrew Dinkelaker, secretary and treasurer of UE National, speaks at the rally. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Union workers and supporters rally at Kennametal. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Stop & Shop union worker Bill Flynn carries a sign in support of Kennametal picketers. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 4/27/2019 12:17:56 AM
Modified: 4/27/2019 12:17:45 AM

GREENFIELD — With thunder booming over the industrial plant on Sanderson Street, dozens picketed in front of Kennametal. It was the first real threat of a strike in the past 30 years hanging in the air. 

“Get up, get down, Greenfield is a union town,” about 50 people yelled in the pouring rain Friday afternoon. “Contract — or else.” 

The last time Kennametal’s unionized workers authorized the right to strike was in 1986. There were about 500 workers at the industrial plant. Shortly thereafter they went on strike. 

Thirty-three years later, the now 65 workers at Kennametal have their first viable threat of a strike again. Earlier this month the unionized workers who are a part of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Local 274 agreed to the right to go on strike. 

Friday, they expressed frustration with the current contract proposal the workers say will force overtime, significantly increase deductibles for health insurance plans, not provide a livable wage increase and bring for the first time a steady flow of temporary workers into the Greenfield plant. 

“They think of you as a tool,” Chad McGinnis, international representative for the northeast region of UE, said into the megaphone. “Our brothers and sisters are not tools. Our brothers and sisters are human beings. Our brothers and sisters are proud working class people who have built this city, who have built this country.”

Kennametal Director of Corporate Communications Christina Sutter said in a statement: “Kennametal respects the right of the union and its members to communicate their position regarding bargaining and to do so by peaceful informational picketing, so long as it doesn’t disrupt or interfere with operations. Negotiations are continuing, and we remain hopeful that a new agreement will be reached soon.”

Shawn Coates, president of the union at the Sanderson Street shop, said morale is very down.

Coates, a Greenfield resident, began working at Kennametal in 1988, two years after the 500-plus workers had gone on strike. In the 30 years since, they have picketed before, but never have authorized the right to strike.

He said morale began to slip when Kennametal, with corporate offices in the Pittsburgh area, brought in a plant manager from the Lyndonville, Vt. shop that closed in 2014. Coates said the manager “goes around threatening people” that he will fire them. He said people, including on the management level, have left the company because of this plant manager.

Morale continued to sink when Kennametal presented its current contract. For the first time, Coates said, they were not given an option on health insurance but rather solely presented a flex plan that requires a significant deductible.

“What we want is a fair wage, fair insurance and fair working conditions,” Coates, a thread grinder, said. “That’s all we want. We don’t want a lot of money. We just want our peace.”

Coates and others at the rally pointed to a climate in which they say unions are under attack in this country.

“We know we’re under attack,” Greenfield Precinct 6 City Councilor Sheila Gilmour, a union steward at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said on the picket line.

In Feb. 2018, Gilmour, who is now running for mayor, gathered with other union representatives at Greenfield Community College to protest perceived attacks to the strengths of unions from President Donald Trump and the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the year since, local unions have been out on the street fighting over contracts that often revolve around living wages and health insurance.

The nurses at Baystate Franklin Medical Center settled their year-and-a-half dispute in May 2018.

Most recently, Stop & Shop unionized workers went on strike for 11 days before settling their labor issues.

Some of those workers were present Friday for the UE rally, including Bill Flynn, the dairy clerk who was on the front line of the Stop & Shop dispute.

“I’m out here to support the people who supported me,” Flynn said, who was applauded when he showed up.

Later in the rally, one person with the megaphone shouted out the supermarket employees calling, “Victory!”

Andrew Dinkelaker, secretary and treasurer of UE National, told the crowd, “There’s no reason why this company should be trying to take away the working conditions of these working families.” He said he understands Kennametal is making a profit and defined the contract as corporate greed.

“You’re going to see something here if they don’t back down from their demands,” Dinkelaker said.

Coates said he hopes they can get back to the bargaining table and find a contract that works without having to strike.

The union is obligated to give a 10-day notice before a potential strike.

“I want to keep what people before me put down and fought for,” Coates said. “I’m just going to keep it going for the next generation.”

Coates was greeted by former employees of Kennametal, including those who remember the strike of decades past. UE 274 and the Greenfield shop has always been perceived as a strong union, he said.

“If we don’t have a union, we’ll basically ...” Coates paused in the pouring rain, collecting his thoughts. “The place will just go downhill.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




Greenfield Recorder

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