Union employees at Continental Cement ‘shining light’ on overtime issue in contract negotiations

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Members from United Steelworkers shine a light Monday night on the side of the Continental Cement building to let people in Hannibal know about stalled contract negotiations. | Ron Kinscherf

HANNIBAL, Mo. —The unusual lighting that Hannibal residents may have noticed around town Monday night had nothing to do with Christmas. 

Representatives from the United Steelworkers were using the union’s “bat signal” projector to shine a message on walls throughout the city.  They arrived from Pittsburgh, hoping to stir up conversation about the contract situation for nearly 120 employees of Continental Cement who are members of United Steelworkers Local 11-205.

Members of the union have continued to work without a formally renegotiated contract since May. They first worked under a contract extension, but since September, there has been under no contract at all. 

Ron Wilkey, subdistrict director for Steelworkers 1140, believes it’s time for the community to know what’s going on.

“Our members support the bargaining unit committee in solidarity, and we want a fair contract we can live with and have a work-life balance,” Wilkey said Monday. “Keep good jobs in the community that helps the local businesses out and everything else. (Continental Cement is) a good employer. Nobody’s going to deny that. But it gets to a point where you’ve got to say, ‘Well, wait a minute.’”

Wilkey said the main issue is overtime and an on-call system that management wishes to employ. 

“(Continental Cement) wants the union members to give up any say over overtime work scheduled. (It wants) basically a call-out system where you’re at their every beck and call anytime 24/7,” Wilkey said. “Our members just don’t think that it’s going to work, and they’re already working their tails off with tons of overtime.”

Heather Ames, human resource and labor relations manager at Continental Cement in Hannibal, emailed to Muddy River News an unattributed statement Tuesday afternoon about negotiations for a three-year contract.

“Our current wages are among the highest of other manufacturing facilities in Hannibal, and we have proposed the largest classified wage increase at the Hannibal plant in years,” the statement read. “Over the next three years, employees will be able to earn about an additional $10,000 to $20,000 or more — just in straight-time earnings (excluding shift differential and overtime pay) — as a result of our proposed pay increases. At the end of three years, the lowest-rated job will be able to earn as much as $71,000 per year, and our top-rated job will be able to earn nearly $90,000 per year in straight-time earnings, prior to overtime and shift differential.”

Continental Cement said it is requesting “added flexibility” in exchange for “unprecedented” investment in the employees.

“In mid-September, the union expressed its willingness to accept our proposals in principle, and the parties are seeking to complete negotiations with the assistance of a federal mediator,” the statement read. “However, the union has been available to meet only two days in the past 12 weeks and has cancelled three other meeting dates. We remain available to meet with the union and the federal mediator and look forward to completing negotiations. We remain committed and well positioned to supplying our customer needs as negotiations progress.”

Continental Cement, one of Hannibal’s largest employers, has also has a manufacturing facility in Davenport, Iowa, and nine distribution terminals along the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and New Orleans. Continental Cement is a wholly owned subsidiary of Summit Materials, Inc., and its headquarters are in Chesterfield, Mo.

The two sides last talked in early November. Talks now are at a stalemate, and Wilkey says a federal mediator now will get involved. 

Wilkey said union members continue to show up for work every morning like any other morning, but they believe it’s time for the community to know the situation. The “batlight” is a tool to help with that.

“The main thing is we want to express to (Continental Cement) that the membership supports the bargaining unit committee. We have solidarity,” Wilkey says. “We just want a fair contract.”

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