National Copper employees jam Legion hall

Published 10:53 am Thursday, November 13, 2008

By By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
National Copper Products' hourly union employees represented by United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 1218 packed Doe-Wah-Jack American Legion Post 563 Wednesday noon to be brought up to date by President Alan Sheteron and Michigan Works representatives.
Even when your longtime workplace closes abruptly and pulls the economic rug out from under you without warning, many details remain to be ironed out.
As they munched on sloppy joes, the workers listened to two Michigan Works representatives following up on a letter sent out about two "rapid response" meetings being held today at 9 a.m. at Southwestern Michigan College's Mathews Conference Center adjacent to the library and again on Tuesday, Nov. 18, in the same location, but at 2 p.m.
Meetings are expected to last two to 2 1/2 hours.
Workers were encouraged to attend both sessions.
Attending will be an unemployment expert from Grand Rapids to walk through how to file for jobless benefits, what steps need to be taken to file a claim and to continue that claim through the automated system.
"We're running into people that this is their first experience with unemployment," she said. "You have to file yourself two ways – either over the phone or over the Internet."
Michigan Works, which will furnish each laid-off employee with a packet of information, including phone contact numbers, prefers that an unemployment filing be made before displaced workers come to its five tri-county offices in Dowagiac, Benton Harbor and Paw Paw, or satellites in Buchanan and South Haven, to post their resumes on its computerized talent bank or even in preparing a resume if that help is needed.
Some or all of retraining could be funded by No Worker Left Behind or Michigan Works scholarships.
National Copper workers were told they could collect unemployment benefits while training through No Worker Left Behind.
Sheteron, of Buchanan, who has worked at NCP for 14 years and is in his fourth year as UAW Local 1218 president, said there will be another membership meeting at noon Tuesday, Dec. 2, to follow up a meeting with the company scheduled for Monday, Nov. 24.
UAW Local 1218's office at 203 Pennsylvania Ave. will be open three days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Or, call (269) 782-8541 and leave a message.
The office will not be open this Friday, however.
Office hours begin Monday, Nov. 17.
On Friday, Nov. 21, John Katlun will be at the office from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. for anyone interested in withdraw cards, which avoid paying initiation fees in the event of a transfer to another union shop, not just UAW.
Sheteron said, "They said we'll keep (health) insurance until December" rather than through the end of 2008, providing weekly benefit payments are kept current.
A regional UAW official added, "We had a meeting with (owner) Tom Fox last Thursday and he said they planned on having everyone out by Dec. 1, so you're hearing two different stories, which should not surprise anybody. You may hear things from people who work in the office that will be different from what it is for you. When Al and I met Tom Fox, they told us they'd pay your vacation through the end of December and honor any vacation accrued" for next year by working 700 hours this year.
"They may tell office people differently because they're not covered by your contract. I've got the legal department of the UAW working on WARN Act aspects of this thing because of the really short notice – not 60 days."
UAW's research department is also looking into why National Copper only closed its unionized copper mill in Dowagiac.
According to National Copper's Web site, companies owned by National Tube Holding Co. include National Tube Holding Co. (NTH) of Birmingham, Ala.; National Copper Products (NCP) of Dowagiac; National Copper and Smelting (NCS) of Huntsville, Ala.; American Tubing Inc. (ATI) of Springdale, Ark.; and NCP Trading Co. of Chelmsford, Mass.
"We'll try to get for you whatever we can, such as a little severance pay. The trouble you have in these circumstances is he says he has no money and we've lost a lot of power with no one working as far as making them do anything. By Dec. 2 we should have some more information. The Nov. 24 meeting is not the fault of the company, it's my fault. I also represent Bosch in Benton Harbor and have meetings at the plant there next week. I've got the whole following week open and will work Thanksgiving, if necessary. The contract will be followed to a T. Otherwise, we'll end up in an NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) suit or in a regular court case. We've taken on companies before and will if we have to. We may not have to," the union official said.
Union members also questioned the fate of their funds.
"I cannot take them out," Sheteron said. "It's legally impossible. We've got to run our business. At the end of that, all assets will be left to the international union. But if something comes up within a year of this and we reopen, any money they took would come back into the local."
An employee who previously belonged to a different union with a similar bylaws restriction said they were nevertheless able to set up a committee that disbursed those funds to members who ran into financial difficulties, such as paying utilities.
That suggestion will be checked into "since we've got nothing to lose by asking."
Sheteron also informed Local 1218 of MOMS Club's plans to hold a benefit dinner Nov. 22 from 5 to 9 p.m.