Management vs. Labor in Kansas
Each year, many businesses are faced with restructuring, mergers, downsizing, contract disputes and other factors affecting relationships between management and employees. BFL&S learned of a situation that began to unfold on Feb. 5 in Girard, Kan., when 39 bargaining-unit employees (production workers and press operators) were locked out of Forms Manufacturing Inc. (FMI) during a union contract dispute. More than four months later, a new contract has been ratified, but not before lawsuits, appeals and the loss of union label work during that period.
The last contract had expired in April 2005. FMI and Global Communications Conference/International Brotherhood of Teamsters (GCC/IBT) Local 235-M met to negotiate a new contract in late April 2005. The contract had remained essentially unchanged for several years, but now the company was proposing to cut wages 20 percent to 25 percent, and increase contributions for health insurance for single coverage from 80 percent company/20 percent employee to 65 percent company/35 percent employee.
Journalist Matthew Clark of the Morris News Service provided continuing coverage of the story for the Morning Sun Newspaper from Feb. 7 to June 10 (available at www.morningsun.net). There were no reports of picketing or unauthorized workers being admitted, nor were there any other visual signs of the situation occuring at the plant. A summary of Clark’s detailed accounts follows, along with information BFL&S obtained from interviews with John Sneed, Secretary-Treasurer of FMI, and former FMI owner and president Jim Orwig. Jim Miller, GCC/IBT Local 235-M president, was unavailable for additional comment.
The Heat is On
Clark reported that both parties met again in Jan. 2006 and on Feb. 2, and representatives of FMI’s parent company, Houston-based Sovereign Business Forms, requested a union response to the entire company proposal.
On Saturday, Feb. 4, Sneed sent a letter notifying the union of FMI’s intentions. “I am writing to advise you of FMI’s decision to institute a lockout of bargain-unit employees effective 6 a.m. Feb. 5, 2006, in support of our lawful bargaining proposal,” Sneed stated in the letter to Miller. “From the onset of these negotiations, we have emphasized the need for substantial contract cost reductions to make FMI more competitive and to bring FMI’s labor costs in line with FMI’s sister corporations...” Initially, the union asked if the company was having financial trouble, but Miller said FMI was in no hurry to provide the requested information regarding its financial situation.