Weekly Feature



2018-05-24 / Local News

Workers’ Rights Board hears Wendt employees’ concerns

by BRYAN JACKSON
Editor

The WNY Workers’ Rights Board, an arm of the Buffalo based Coalition for Economic Justice, heard testimonials describing alleged examples of intimidation, unsafe working conditions, continued favoritism, retaliation and company stalling in contract negotiations from several Wendt Corporation workers earlier this month, as workers and management remain at loggerheads regarding a first union contract.

Last summer, production floor workers at Wendt, which manufactures scrap metal shredders at its Walden Avenue plant, voted to unionize. A few months later the layoffs began.

The company chalked up the temporary layoffs to a regular production slowdown, but some union workers, including Jeff George and Bill Hudson, said that reason didn’t add up.

“The past two years were record years, and now all of the sudden, now in 2018, you’re so slow you have to lay people off? It just didn’t make any sense to any one of us,” said George, who’s been with Wendt about two years.

Hudson, a 6½-year employee, said he didn’t remember temporary layoffs occurring during his time at Wendt, although he said there was a layoff that was a permanent downsizing as a result of a shift in work.

Generally, Hudson said, when slowdowns happen, the employees are kept working, even if it is just doing odd jobs. When layoffs did occur, the company would pick an equal number of shop and office workers, Hudson said. This time, only 10 shop workers were selected for the temporary layoff, which was scheduled to run from February to April, although some workers were called back earlier. He said nine of the 10 were pro-union workers.

The Rev. Kirk Laubenstein, Coalition for Economic Justice executive director, said hearing from the workers allowed a glimpse into the dispute.

“One of the things that really stuck out to me as a commissioner ... was that it seems like Wendt is treating their workers as disposable, and as a pastor, God doesn’t make disposable people,” Rev. Laubenstein said. “The other thing is not necessarily valuing the skills that people bring and have cultivated over a long time and not really investing in training.”

Joan Malone, a former CEJ director and current WNY Workers’ Rights Board member, said businesses work best when management and employees work together, something that she thinks Wendt’s management is forgetting.

“What strikes me in all of this is the magnitude, the sheer magnitude, that this company is willing to go to in order to punish the workers who voted for a union,” she said. “I’ve not seen that before, to this degree, in 25 years.”

Many of the major complaints revolve around safety, with union workers alleging that unqualified hires are being put on dangerous equipment without training.

Wendt did offer a contract recently that included raises to the workers, who are represented by Iron Workers Shopmen Union Local 576, according to Ginger Schroeder, Wendt’s attorney. However, according to George and Hudson, the extra money came at the cost of their workplace rights, many of which they say are commonplace at companies throughout the country.

Each side has blamed the other for the failure to reach a deal on a contract.

Schroeder said that many of the union’s proposals would restrict the company’s ability to function efficiently.

At this point, Rev. Laubenstein said the CEJ and the Workers’ Rights Board are hoping to use the testimonials to develop recommendations for Wendt to help them “move to a more collaborative culture with their workers and a culture that really embraces safety and health concerns on the job.”

Rev. Laubenstein said Wendt executives were invited to the Workers’ Rights Board hearing, but none attended. However, Schroeder said management had no interest in attending a board with no jurisdiction.

“It’s a made up court with no due process, rules or regulations,” she said. “We decided not to participate in it. We didn’t see any value in it.”

Overall, Rev. Laubenstein said, the workers are the best ones to come up with solutions.

“It’s our take that the people that live day in day out, that are working at Wendt, are the ones that have the answers. They’re the ones that know how to solve the problems.”

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