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Two arrested in strike at Constellium

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two men along a picket line in Ravenswood were arrested Thursday night for damaging three delivery trucks with jack rocks and injuring a driver during a workers strike at Constellium Rolled Products in Jackson County.

Robert Mason Sullivan, II of Evans and Michael Robert Fowler of Mount Alto were arrested Thursday for felony destruction of property for throwing jack rocks -- nails welded together -- at three tractor trailers leaving the Constellium plant on Wednesday, according to a press release from the West Virginia State Police.

The driver of one of the trucks suffered an eye injury after one of the rocks shattered his windshield. The total damage to the trucks was estimated at $3,200, according to the release.

Fowler was also charged with misdemeanor battery for throwing a rock through the windshield. Both suspects were arraigned in Jackson County Magistrate Court. 

Sullivan was released on a $5,000 bond and Fowler was released on a $6,000 bond.

Union and company officials condemned the attacks near the picket line as tensions continued to escalate between United Steel Workers Local 5668 and company officials.

Since the strike began at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday after a dispute about contract negotiations, limited production has continued at the aluminum plant, using salaried personnel.

The most contentious bargaining issue for both sides has been health-care benefits.

Randy Moore, sub-district director for the United Steelworkers of America, said the destructive behavior "was not sanctioned by the union" and said union workers planned to "work with the State Police to the fullest extent we can."

"It is unfortunate these incidents happened," said Moore. "If the truck driver was injured, it is unfortunate, no matter how it happened."

He added that union workers had their own tires flattened by jack rocks and said he suspected that "the goon guards the company hired to harass our picketers are responsible for that."

Constellium's CEO Kyle Lorentzen said, "Our primary concern is for the well-being and recovery of the driver, and ensuring the safety of other personnel working in and around the facility."

Michael Baylous, spokesman for the State Police, said two police cruisers had their tires punctured by jack rocks on Sunday evening.

On Wednesday, State Police Col. C.R. "Jay" Smithers went to the Ravenswood area and met with both Lorentzen and USW Local 5668 President Jason Miller.

Baylous said that meeting was "positive."

"They discussed the current situation and discussed our role, which is public safety," he said. "One of our primary concerns includes [protecting] traveling motorists who will be going through the area."

In a statement, Constellium accused union leaders of refusing to let employees vote on the company's proposal presented Aug 1. That offer includes more than $23,000 in average net-gains per employee over the life of the contract.

"These improvements would be achieved through a $7,000 ratification bonus, 2 percent annual wage increases, wage adjustments of between $0.25 and $1 per hour for every hourly employee, and other economic benefits over the life of the contract," said the company statement.

Local union members rejected Constellium's proposed contract on July 26-27 by a vote of 604-20.

Moore said the union made another contract offer during Saturday night's negotiations.

"But they just turned their nose up at it," he said. "We were there ready to continue to bargain. They told us, 'Take it or leave it.'"

Moore said Constellium should "stop spending exuberant amounts of money in its media campaign, stop bargaining with our membership through the press, and send their goon guards home.

"Our members are wondering, 'If you can spend all that money, why can't you deal with us?'" Moore said.

Billy Thompson, USW's district director, said a decision to strike is sometimes "the only way to show the company that we demand to be treated fairly.

"We hope that the company will sit down with us and work out a fair deal for everyone involved -- one that helps them stay competitive without pushing more hard-working people into a race to the bottom," Thompson said on the Local 5668 website.

"Among other issues, the union is objecting to changes the company wants to make to health-care coverage that will significantly increase costs to employees and their families. The changes could more than wipe out any wage increases the company has proposed. Currently, workers at Constellium make an average of about $19 per hour."

@tag:Staff writer Amy Julia Harris contributed. Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.

 


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