PORTAGE | Workers have gone on strike at a steel service center in Portage.
About 5 to 15 steelworkers have been huddling around burn barrels in the bitter cold outside Neo Industries in Portage to protest a proposal to lay off 10 union truck drivers.
"All we're trying to do is keep our brothers working," said picketing worker Duane "Bubba" Jones.
United Steelworkers Local 2003, which represents workers at 42 different companies across Northwest Indiana, went on strike for the first time in six years after contract negotiations stalled. Local president Carlos Luna said the union is willing to make concessions to save 10 of the 22 union jobs at the chrome plating facility, but the company has been bargaining in bad faith.
Neo Industries, which has a plant on Willowcreek Road, grinds and puts chrome plating on rolls of steel for local mills, such as ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor. The company and union have been trying to negotiate a new 5-year contract since October, and the current contract expired in November.
"It's a very unfortunate situation, and I know all the guys on strike," said company president Kevin Walsh. "It's not affecting operations, and we're fulfilling our commitments."
Walsh said he could not comment on the negotiations because the National Labor Relations Board forbids him from doing so.
"I feel what we offered to the guys was very fair," he said. "It's just disappointing and unfortunate."
Luna said Neo offered minimal raises, but would cut the plant's workforce in half by getting rid of the truck drivers. The company also offered severance packages that were too small.
"Guys were offered $1,500, $1,000," Luna said. "That'll pay your bills for maybe a month."
Union workers walked off the job Friday at 6 p.m. and have been camped out outside the plant ever since. On Monday, the union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board charging that the company has negotiated in bad faith and not provided the union with accurate financial information.
"We've had threats since the beginning," Luna said. "It's about getting rid of the drivers, not about a savings. If they want to save money, we can help them."