Cray Valley Workers Seek Workplace Improvements in First Contract

Chemical workers at Cray Valley Hydrocarbon Specialty Chemicals (Cray Valley) in Beaumont, Texas, will soon be able to address the workplace and management issues that prompted them to organize when they start negotiating a first contract this month.

Negotiations start Feb. 20 and will focus on job security, health and safety, and contract language that protects existing healthcare, vacation and other benefits, said Adam Trenholm, the unit chair for the group that is part of Local 13-243.

Trenholm and his 43 coworkers began their journey to improve their workplace on Sept. 20, 2019 when they contacted the USW and started their organizing campaign. The group—which includes production operators, lab technicians, instrument and electrical technicians, maintenance technicians and material handlers—wanted to organize because of job security and safety issues, Trenholm said.

In addition, he said the company started eliminating job positions and changing them entirely. Plus, he said that management was unfairly disciplining employees.

“Workers were very concerned about the orders they were getting from supervisors,” said Hoot Landry, District 13 staff representative. “The supervisor would tell them to do something, the worker would do it, and the supervisor would say the way the worker did it was wrong. They tried to blame workers.”

Company pushback

Cray Valley makes hydrocarbon resin used for tire products and tape, and is the base for any glue, Trenholm said. The resin goes into products for other companies, such as 3M and Michelin which are some of Cray Valley’s biggest customers.

Formerly owned by Goodyear Tire Company, Cray Valley is now a subsidiary of Total Petrochemicals and has been at the current site for 50 years as of March 25, 2020.

Cray Valley employed typical union-busting tactics, including the hiring of a union-busting lawyer.

“They organized mandatory meetings and started to remove vacation and other benefits,” Trenholm said.

To help, Local 13-243 opened its union hall to the workers, so they could discuss their issues and receive assistance in resolving their grievances.

“We shared with them that there’s strength in numbers,” Landry said. “They had to decide whether to stick together and fight back, or continue to get more of the same treatment.”

He said the workers contacted the union whenever the company tried to implement changes to the status quo.

Victory!

The Cray Valley workers voted overwhelmingly for USW representation in a National Labor Relations Board election on Nov. 14-15, 2019.

“I feel a lot safer,” Trenholm said. “I feel we have what we need (a union) to be protected. It will be nice to have an arbitration and grievance procedure. That’s something we do not have now.  Having a union gives us a voice, which we didn’t have before either.”

Workers elected Trenholm, David White and Wesley Durio to the bargaining committee, and completed a survey on the issues they want addressed in the first contract.

Landry said that he and the committee had a preliminary discussion with the company over negotiations and feel positive about getting a first contract.

“We believe that in a reasonable amount of time we will be able to work through our issues,” he said.

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