Originally posted in Maine AFL-CIO News on April 14, 2023
Cives Steel in Augusta is playing hardball in contract negotiations with members of Ironworkers Local 807 and they need our support! There will be a rally to support Local 807 members this Sunday, April 16 at 11:30am at Cives Steel, 103 Lipman Road in Augusta. Their contract expired in March and the 85 union workers have been working without a contract ever since. The steel fabrication shop builds beams and columns primarily for construction jobs in the Boston area and elsewhere in the northeast.
“Right now we’re so low on pay it’s unbelievable compared to other shops,” said Tim Dunlap, chief steward for Local 807. “When I started here you didn’t pay any out-of-pocket insurance costs for your family and as an entry-level worker I was making almost double minimum wage and overtime. Then they started jacking up costs for health care while entry level workers start at a little over $17 per hour. We had a guy who didn’t want to work nights so he went over to Pizza Hut to earn the same money with a lower health insurance premium and the same deductible.”
Dunlap added that the company puts so little money into the workers’ 401ks that most of them don’t have enough money to retire when they reach retirement age.
“When their time comes to retire a lot of these guys are struggling,” he said.
The Georgia-based building materials company has about 1400 employees with annual revenue of over $360 million. While the company provided a $1 across-the-board wage increase for employees last year due to surging inflation, it was far too low to catch up to the rising cost of living.
“It’s a tough company. They’ve always been tough,” said Ironworkers General Organizer Tony Rosaci. “The medical and retirement benefits are not great and the wages are low, so now the company has been having a problem with recruitment and retention. Skilled, blue collar workers are hard to find throughout the country, but it’s especially difficult for this company because it has always prided itself on paying low wages and scanty benefits.”
Cives has eight plants, half of which are unionized. Ironworkers have been reaching out to workers at Cives shops in other states to build power and solidarity because if the company is successful in forcing a bad contract on Augusta workers, it will try to do the same at its locations elsewhere.
Usually, local management negotiates contracts with the Augusta workers, but this time the company has sent its number two man Gregg Orff from corporate headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia to negotiate.
“We assume he’s up here to play tough guy and show everybody he’s the boss,” said Rosaci. “He wants to show that he knows how to do this and he’ll tame everybody.”
Meanwhile, Local 807 members at the facility have been organizing and fighting back. Workers have been making a racket with their hammers on metal at the shop and displaying signs in their cars parked in front of management offices to show their disapproval of contract negotiations. Having the support of their fellow union members and others will mean the world to them, so if you can, please come out and stand with them this Sunday!
Andy O’Brien is the communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO, a statewide federation of 160 local unions representing 40,000 workers. However, his opinions are his own and don’t represent the views of his employer. He is also a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445.