Life as a Target
By Jim Wozniak
Erwin Bureau Chief
ERWIN Â? Should a terrorist-related disaster occur in Tennessee, some people might assume that Nuclear Fuel Services in this part of the state or the Oak Ridge nuclear facilities might be at risk.
But Dwayne Collins, the regional coordinator of the state Office of Homeland Security, told the Erwin Kiwanis Club Tuesday that people should be more concerned about other parts of their community.
Â?I wouldnÂ?t be worried about them,Â? he said in an interview about NFS and Oak Ridge. Â?First of all, they have armed security there. TheyÂ?re well and highly trained individuals, and they work here at these facilities.
Â?I remember when I first started this job, everybody was so concerned about Oak Ridge, Oak Ridge, Oak Ridge. IÂ?m not saying that anything is infallible like I said earlier, but what I am saying is that you have highly trained, well-trained individuals, and thatÂ?s all they do. They train. They train for the worst and theyÂ?re prepared.Â?
By Jim Wozniak
Erwin Bureau Chief
ERWIN Â? From shouts of Â?scabsÂ? to the swarming of buses and cars, union employees of Nuclear Fuel Services confronted non-striking workers Monday morning with a torrent of emotional words over the companyÂ?s decision to hire replacements.
Union members converged on buses and cars, forcing drivers to move at a snailÂ?s pace until they reached the plant entrance. Some held signs of protest aloft and pressed them near windows as they screamed their displeasure, some with bullhorns, at the people who were going to work.
After the buses were safely in the plant with the help of sheriffÂ?s deputies, a union member expressed his dislike for the contracted security guards who lined the outside. Security forces were mocked as lesser-qualified officers than sheriffÂ?s deputies.
During the four-hour event union members and other backers also lined the corner of Carolina Avenue and the Jackson-Love Highway and stood at the entrance to Riverview Industrial Park, where NFS has a second building. With union supporters inhibiting easy entrance and the sheriffÂ?s department allowing only one direction of travel at a time, traffic was backed up on the Jackson-Love Highway and at a standstill on Interstate 26 near Exit 15.
Â?Go home scabs,Â? Â?Hey, rent-a-scab,Â? and Â?WhatÂ?s your momma think about you being a scab?Â? were among comments directed at bus and car occupants.
Some union members highlighted the strikeÂ?s cause Â? a disagreement they have with management over a proposed six-year contract. One union member said labor wanted a Â?fairÂ? contract to consider, and another asked a company vice president entering the industrial park, Â?Are you going to put us back to work, or are you going to hire some scabs?Â?
Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris estimated the crowd to number as many as 500. In addition to members of United Steelworkers, Local 9-677, which has been on strike since May 15, that unionÂ?s president, Roger Birchfield, said representatives of the CSX union were present. Harris said others in the community were in the crowd, including one man who blocked a tractor-trailer from exiting NFS.
Birchfield believed the morning event was a success.
Â?WeÂ?ve had a super good turnout,Â? he said. Â?I do think that hopefully weÂ?ve sent a message to the company that the best way to resolve this is to sit down at the negotiating table and not hire replacement workers.Â?
Company spokesman Tony Treadway said NFS was concerned for the safety of the public and its employees Monday. He said one salaried employee to whom he spoke was frustrated it took two hours to get to the plant Monday.
No arrests were made. Tacks were discovered at an entrance to the NFS training center, but Birchfield said the union was not responsible. Chief Deputy Mike HensleyÂ?s vehicle sustained a flat tire.
Security guard Brian Stevens said in a court document that pro-union supporters hit bus windows with their hands or fists. Birchfield maintained there was no violence, and Harris said he did not see any assaults take place. But he said he had not seen everything.
Company representatives on the buses, in cars and at the plant entrance filmed the events. Later, pictures of what transpired on Carolina Avenue were included in a petition NFS filed asking a judge to find the union in contempt of a 17-year-old court order regulating picket lines at the plant. When Birchfield received a copy of the document in the afternoon, union employees stuck to the NFS entrance and a nearby sidewalk, and buses departed without a hitch.
Treadway said the companyÂ?s proposal to offer an immediate 5 percent pay hike and an average of nearly 4 percent per year over the life of the contract was evidence the company is serious about ending the strike and bringing the union back to work.
This is the first time in the companyÂ?s nearly 50-year history that NFS has hired replacement workers. Treadway said he understands NFS hired 10 of these employees, all of whom showed up for work Monday.
NFS also took out an advertisement Sunday in the Johnson City Press seeking hourly employees as chemical operators. Treadway said it would take about a year before these applicants could start working because of the necessity to receive security clearances, by which time the company would like to have union workers back in the fold. He said the company would not divulge what its future plans were for hiring replacement workers.
Â?I donÂ?t know what their intentions are to this point, with the exception of breaking this union,Â? Birchfield said. Â?And it probably could be from bringing other replacement workers in. The advertisement in the paper obviously is geared toward that intention. WeÂ?re fighting for our lives.Â?
Treadway said the allegation about breaking the union is untrue.
Judge rules injunction still in effect, sets contempt hearing
ERWIN Â? It did not take long for Nuclear Fuel Services to respond to Monday morningÂ?s protest by striking union employees that included slowing the progress of company buses and cars in opposition to managementÂ?s decision to hire replacement workers.
By early afternoon, NFS attorneys Steve Fox and Steven E. Kramer had filed a petition asking Circuit Court Judge Tom Seeley to hold United Steelworkers of America and United Steelworkers International Union, Local 9-677, in contempt of court. They alleged the two labor organizations violated the terms of a permanent injunction signed in 1989 by then-Circuit Court Judge Jack Musick with their actions Monday.
Musick ordered that picketing be limited and restricted to two stationary pickets at the NFS entrance. He also said the union could not interfere with anyone entering or leaving the plant. The union also was barred from coming within 100 feet of buses carrying NFS or Murray Guard employees or harrassing or threatening them.
On Monday, Seeley signed an order saying MusickÂ?s injunction was still in effect, and the judge scheduled an Aug. 30 hearing in Unicoi County Circuit Court to decide whether the union should be held in contempt of courtmembersa ruling might result in jail time for union memners.
Roger Birchfield, president of Local 9-677, said he had not been properly served with the 1989 order and said it was apparently a move by the company in case a strike occurred that year, which did not happen.
Â?Apparently, they claim we violated an injunction we never saw,Â? Birchfield said. Â?WeÂ?ve talked with the sheriff (Kent Harris), and weÂ?re going to abide by the injunction until we go to court.Â?
Harris said he provided a copy to Birchfield of all documents signed Monday by Fox, Stevens and Seeley. Harris said there were still ambiguities in the order that he would need to resolve with Seeley.
The sheriff, who was at NFS to ensure the union was complying with the injunction, said he caught a lot of flak from striking workers and salaried employees for his handling of the union protest Monday. Union workers were mad at him because he allowed the buses to enter the plant, and salaried employees thought he should have arrested everyone involved in the protest. There were also concerns from parents of nearby Love Chapel Elementary School students, he said.
Â?I did the best I could do to keep the peace and safety,Â? Harris said. Â?That was my concern.Â?