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Bruce talks break down

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

BUCKHANNON -- Calling the possibility of a strike at Bruce Hardwood Floors in Beverly "very likely," union negotiators walked out of talks with corporate representatives Friday evening after about nine hours of discussion.

"Of the major issues that are on the table, we're willing to move on all theirs but they're unwilling to move on one issue and that's a union shop," said Ken Hall, president of Local 175 of the Teamsters.

While Triangle Pacific Corp., the parent company of Bruce Hardwood, wants an open shop, where workers are not required to join the union to work there, negotiators were willing to compromise. They offered to establish a "maintenance of membership" shop, where each employee chooses individually whether to join the union, said Triangle representative Rich TerHaar.

If an employee chooses to join the union, TerHaar said, the company would require that employee to remain a member as a condition of employment.

"The company's philosophy is that we are not going to compel any employee to join the union as a condition of employment," TerHaar said. "We won't inhibit anyone from joining the union but we don't feel it is right to make that a condition of employment."

No additional talks were scheduled Friday, which Hall said makes a strike very possible.

"I told them if they want to talk, to call me at home this weekend," he said. "We still have economics to talk about, but when the company is unwilling to talk about something that is a standard contract item, obviously they are not serious about the talks."

TerHaar said that Hall most likely will be contacted over the weekend about resuming negotiations.

"Until we get a contract, we need to continue meeting," he said. "Obviously a strike is a big concern. It's a concern for the employees, for management and for the company.

"Nobody ever wins in a strike," he said.

Hall said the company's offer of a maintenance of membership compromise is unacceptable.

"We didn't just come in here and put up pickets, we went through the election and we won," he said. "They lost and now they won't accept it. They're trying to block the union and split up the employees."

Anything other than a closed union shop would weaken the union's position, Hall said. Employees at Bruce Hardwood are fearful that if that happens, it would leave union members open to retaliation by management.

"Given the high number of discharges, the employees are concerned and I think they have real concerns," he said.

Bruce Hardwood terminated more workers in 1999 -- 28 -- than were terminated throughout the whole of Local 175, which covers about 3,700 workers at 77 companies, during the same time period, Hall said.

And 166 workers left the plant in 1999, more than 30 percent of the average payroll of 550 workers, Hall said.

Bruce Hardwood Floors has 700 workers, including 100 non-union members, at its Beverly plant, Hall said.

The union organized at Bruce Hardwood last August and has been trying to negotiate a contract since then, Hall said.

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