BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Locked-out union workers have approved a three-year contract with the owners of a talc milling plant in Montana after 90 days on the picket lines.
The 35 employees of the French-owned Imerys Talc America are scheduled to go back to work at the plant in Three Forks on Nov. 11 after a week of paid, off-site training, said Randy Tocci, president of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local D-239.
“This was a tough and tense time, and we appreciate those who joined us on the picket line, who sent emails and letters of support, who donated food and supplies and funds for us and who encouraged us to stand strong,” Tocci told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle .
Montana’s politicians supported workers, with Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams visiting the picket lines while Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and Attorney General Tim Fox urged Imerys to continue discussions with union workers.
“I’m pleased the company and the workers were able to come together and find a solution,” Bullock said in a statement. “Montanans all across the state can be proud of these workers for their unwavering commitment and for showing that the rights of workers are always worth fighting for.”
Tester and Gianforte also issued statements applauding the end of the lockout, which saw Imerys bring in non-union workers to keep the plant running.
Officials with Imerys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agreement.
After the union filed an unfair labor practice charge against Imerys in October, the company brought different people to the table, which helped move the negotiations forward, Tocci said. Both sides compromised during the Oct. 25 talks, he said.
Seniority still will be considered when filling new positions, but the union allowed for consideration of skills and ability, he said. The new contract continues double-time pay after a certain amount of overtime per week, but it doesn’t kick in until workers put in 14 hours of overtime, up from eight.
Imerys froze the pension plan and said it would offer health benefits for retirees for one more year. Anyone who retires after 2019 would not receive those benefits, Tocci said. Workers will get a 3 percent increase in base pay.
While locked-out workers were able to apply for unemployment insurance, their health insurance ran out at the end of August, the Chronicle has reported.