Steelworker organizers return to earful

A labor union can promise workers “the world,” but in reality can't deliver anything that their company does not agree to, according to the president of Insteel Industries.

Employees of Insteel's Mount Airy (NC) plant are considering whether to become part of the United Steelworkers (USW), the largest industrial labor union in North America which claims more than 1.2 million members. They now are involved in an initial, card-signing phase of the process to determine if there is sufficient interest in holding a union vote. A similar vote failed three years ago.

H.O. Woltz III, Insteel's president and chief executive officer, declined to comment on the unionization movement when contacted by a reporter earlier this week. However, he has made his strong views on the subject known in a recent letter to employees, a copy of which was obtained by The Mount Airy News.

“The company respects the rights of people to engage in union-organizing activities. This right is protected by law and over time has been important to the development of our economy,” Woltz says in his statement to Insteel workers.

“At the same time, it is worth noting that today, ninety-three percent of private-sector employees have remained union-free,” he adds.

“Fear And Intimidation”

The company president's letter also refers to an earlier report suggesting that unionization would empower and protect Insteel personnel in the event the company decided to move jobs offshore as other local manufacturers have done.

“As we have seen in the past,” Woltz states, “union organizers and supporters rely on fear and intimidation to build support for an organizing effort. For instance, the implication that Insteel has considered, or may consider, closing the Mount Airy plant is ridiculous. By raising this prospect, the union hopes to create fear and insecurity among employees in hopes of building support for organizing.”

Woltz has experience with union activities due to workers at two of Insteel's six production facilities being unionized. They are in Delaware and Florida.

“Early in an organizing campaign, it is typical for unions to build enthusiasm among people by promising dramatic changes that benefit workers,” he writes, “building on the assumption that through ‘solidarity' workers will be successful in addressing any concerns that they have regarding workplace matters.”

“The reality is quite different.”

Woltz accuses union organizers of promoting a “one-sided argument.”

In view of that, the Insteel official is asking employees to consider several facts and realities about unions, whose presence only gives them the right to bargain over terms and conditions of employment.

“The outcome of such negotiations can be predicted by neither the union nor the company. Employees could ultimately receive the same pay and benefits as existed prior to the union, pay and benefits could rise or pay and benefits could be reduced,” he says.

Along with stating that the union can't deliver anything the company doesn't go along with, Woltz points out that “Insteel will not agree to terms and conditions of employment that would adversely affect the company's ability to compete in its markets.”

The union can't force the company to change its staffing on production lines, create better business conditions during difficult market environments or force the company to raise pay or improve benefits, according to Woltz.

“The union's only power to force the company to agree to its demands would be to call a strike.” But, the company official adds, “no one wins a strike. Employees go without pay, customer service may be hurt and the company could sustain long-term damage to its reputation as a reliable business partner.

“Proven Track Record”

In further making his case against unionization, Woltz advises workers to compare the union's promises, which might or might not materialize, to Insteel's “proven track record.”

He points out that the company recently invested more than $8 million to assure that its Mount Airy plant has state-of-the-art technology to serve growing markets. “While business conditions are weak currently, the company has demonstrated that it is determined to maintain its position of market leadership,” Woltz's letter states.

“The Mount Airy plant is profitable and its future is bright,” the company official adds. “Many companies around Mount Airy have not been as fortunate. Our success is a tribute to the productivity of our people and a successful market strategy.”

Woltz additionally contends that Insteel employees in Mount Airy have been well taken care of by a company that is proud of the fact it has provided good jobs with excellent pay and benefits for more than 50 years.

“A recent analysis of our pay and benefits indicates that the company's compensation package for production workers is substantially better than that offered by almost any other company in the area,” he states. “We look forward to continuing Insteel's tradition as a premier employer.”

Union Called A “Distraction”

The Insteel president and CEO says the unionization movement is taking attention away from the job at hand for Insteel, which is to serve the needs of its customers.

“Ultimately, the future of our company and the security of our people will be determined by our ability to provide top-quality products and service to our customers, and to do so at competitive prices,” Woltz says.

“Anything that interferes with this objective is a distraction that could erode the company's market position. The union's objective is to divide the company by pitting management against workers.”

In doing this, the union ignores an “important party” - the customer, according to the Insteel executive. “And in highly competitive markets such as Insteel's, ignoring the customer could be fatal.”

Woltz concludes his letter to employees by stating that “no one can predict the ultimate outcome of signing cards that authorize the union to represent you. History shows, however, that the outcome could be much different than promised by union organizers and supporters.”

“Before you sign a union-authorization card,” he says, “you owe it to yourself and your family to get the facts about the Steelworkers and other unions. Spend a few minutes to get to know the Steelworkers and other unions at www.unionfacts.com.”


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