Rockwool employees in Grand Forks have hit the picket lines for what they are saying are fairer wages as the cost of living rises.
As of 11 a.m. Friday, about 160 staff at the Grand Forks plant picked up their picket signs and stationed themselves in teams at several locations on the edge of the property of one of the city’s largest employers.
Workers were greeted with honking horns and waves from passers-by and everyone was in good spirits, said United Steel Workers Union Local 1-423 president Pat McGregor.
However, no one wanted it to come to this.
“It’s never a good time when members have to express their anger or frustration with management through a strike,” he said. “But the crew is 100 per cent together on this and are willing to do whatever they need to get a fair deal.”
He explained that they could not divulge details on what workers and management were negotiating, as they couldn’t be seen to be bargaining through the public and media because it’s gone to strike action. He could say that they tried negotiating earlier in the week and the union served a 72-hour strike notice.
Both parties agreed to mediation, but the mediator was unable to bring the parties to an agreement before the 72-hour strike notice ran out.
The spirit of the negotiations, he added, was to get a better deal so members could keep up with the rising cost of living.
“It’s a money issue and the workers are of the opinion that the company made some nice profits and let the members know that and they want their share,” McGregor said. “They (workers) have been making the money for this employer and when it comes to crunch time, the employer isn’t at the table with us.”
How long this may take, McGregor could not say, but pointed out the members are digging in for a long fight.
The last deal the union and company had was ratified in 2018 and the last time workers at the plant went on strike was 2008.
Sarah Sinovic, director of North American public relations and communications for Rockwool, said in an email statement that the company considers it a privilege to have become a part of the community since it opened its doors 24 years ago.
“While no company wants to see its employees go on strike, Rockwool respects this right of our unionized staff members and looks forward to reaching an agreement soon with our labour partners,” the statement read.
Rockwool is a Danish-based multinational company that manufactures fire safe and soundproofing insulation materials, according to its website. Its North American operations include plants in Milton, Ont.; Jefferson County, Virginia and Marshall County, Mississippi.