A handful of employees on strike from Omnova Solutions gathered at the Lowndes County Courthouse Tuesday morning, hoping the day”s National Labor Relations Board hearing between Omnova attorneys and the Local 748-L union would provide some hope that the ongoing strike will end soon so they can return to work in what they hope will remain a union-led company.
Approximately 172 union workers went on strike May 21, 2010, after refusing to agree to a new contract they say would have caused them to lose incentives, seniority and shift rights. Omnova hired 140 replacement workers, who then petitioned the NLRB for an election to make Omnova a non-union plant.
Both strikers and replacement workers voted in the July election, but ballots on both sides were immediately cast into question, with the union”s position being that the replacement workers were not eligible to vote, and Omnova officials stating that a number of the temporary replacements were converted to permanent replacements, rendering the replaced union workers ineligible to vote.
Further complicating the issue, some strikers who voted have since retired, and others, according to company officials, did not fill out their ballots according to the directions, rendering those votes ineligible.
Attorneys for both parties spent the majority of the day sifting through reams of documents, painstakingly labeling them and trying to determine which concessions each side was willing to make before the case goes before NLRB for a final decision on which workers” ballots will be counted, and, ultimately, whether the union will be decertified.
After hours of wrangling, both sides — maintaining their original positions — agreed that should Omnova prevail in the legal argument, the votes of 32 strikers will be counted in order of seniority.
Lawyers from both sides must file briefs by Oct. 3, but it could be the end of the year before a decision is made.
”Everybody wants to have a job”
Oswald Stevenson was one of the strikers who paced the courthouse halls during breaks, hoping for resolution. He worked for Omnova 23 years before the strike, and he enjoyed his job as a receiving utility clerk. He”d like to get back to work.
But he”s a survivor, he said. The strike has taught him a lot of things, like how much his wife does around the house and what a good woman she is to stand beside him. It”s taught him to slow down and enjoy the fleeting days with his 12-year-old daughter.
Back when he worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, he didn”t get to do all the things he wanted his family.
Still, times are tough, and the $15.97 an hour he used to make is missed. He said he has applied for “every manufacturing job in this county,” but he has been turned down for them all.
There is a stigma the striking employees have to overcome. It makes finding new employment hard.
“We”ve got a right to strike,” Stevenson said. “We”re not breaking the law. Everybody”s here today because somebody stood up for them in the past. This is about life. Right and wrong.”
He has learned to make do with less. A lot of the things he once thought he needed aren”t so important after all. Even once the strike is over, he”s not sure he will return to Omnova. It depends on what happens.
In an ideal world, he wouldn”t need a union, he said. He shows up on time and does his job. But he supports the union and wants to see the company remain union-led.
Meanwhile, he”ll keep looking for work.
“Everybody wants to have a job,” he said. “That”s the American way. … But Christians don”t live in fear. You wake up in the morning and thank God for what you”ve got.”
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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