MOUNT UNION - Rather than lining up outside the Bleyer Gift Pack Factory for a day of work, the members of the Local 9 union lined up Tuesday in strike against factory management.
The strike will continue as long as necessary, said Giorgia Norris, president of Local 9 union.
"The last 12 years have been really hard and the factory just keeps taking from us," Norris said. "We are looking to negotiate for better wages, improved working conditions and affordable health care costs. The management is refusing to negotiate with us."
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
Sue Flasher walks the picket line Wednesday in front of Bleyer Industries in Mount Union as union members strike in an effort to obtain better wages, benefits and safer working conditions. Bleyer Industries manufactures Easter grass, decorative spider webs and gift wrap.
The Bleyer Gift Pack Factory is known for the manufacturing of Easter grass, Halloween spiderwebs and gift wrap.
When the factory was contacted for comment, a man who identified himself as Bob and declined to give his last name said the company had no comment in response to the strike.
Previously, the union had given the management an Oct. 15 deadline to amicably negotiate demands, Norris said. When the company refused, the strike became an official union plan after a 41-5 vote, she said.
After working four years without a contract, factory employees have gone without a cost-of-living wage increase, Norris said. The management has also decreased paid vacation days, cut employee numbers and is planning to increase the health care premium by $164 in November, she said.
"Last November our healthcare was switched from Highmark to Geisinger without employee consent," Norris said. "Now they are trying to put the extra cost on the employees. We are simply asking for a more affordable option."
Union members had approached management before the strike with concerns regarding the health care cost, Norris said. Workers were told the extra cost was because the company was losing money, but then management refused to show any proof, she said.
"We have tried to work with the management through a number of compromises," Norris said. "Instead of air conditioning, we asked for better ventilation or bigger fans in the summer months or when we are manufacturing Easter grass. There's a lot of dust involved with the process and we have to breathe that in all day. They said no."
Employees received the same negative response when asking for extra bereavement days, Norris said.
Though the union has only been on strike for two days, five members have already crossed the picket lines, Norris said. People are worried about providing for families and having a job to return to, she added.
"The factory is rehiring people they had previously fired to replace us," Norris said. "But union members need to keep in mind that this is an official union plan, and the union can press charges on anyone who crosses the picket lines."