Town board called “woefully uninformed” in their support of Wendt workers

Wendt Corporation employees represented by Iron Workers Local 576 hold a lunchtime informational picket outside the business on Walden Avenue on February 1st. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
Wendt Corporation employees represented by Iron Workers Local 576 hold a lunchtime informational picket outside the business on Walden Avenue on February 1st. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

CHEEKTOWAGA – A contentious battle between newly unionized workers and the management of Wendt Corporation is turning political after the Cheektowaga Town Council unanimously authorized a resolution last week that sides with the union and calls for an end to a contract dispute.

The resolution calls upon managers at Wendt Corporation to approve an initial union contract with 30 employees who voted to join Iron Workers Local 576 last June.  Wendt Corporation at 2555 Walden Avenue manufactures shredders and recycling equipment for junkyards and scape metal facilities.

“It’s about fair values, and when over 70 percent [of employees] vote to unionize there I think its fair, but I also think its fair for both sides, the business and the company to work together to maintain a better workforce and continue to build a great company here in Cheektowaga,” said Councilmember James Rogowski.

“There’s been efforts to break their unionization effort,” said Councilmember Brian Nowak.  “I think it’s important for our town board to be on board with supporting this resolution.”

Local attorney Ginger Schroder represents Wendt Corporation at the bargaining table.

“The town board is woefully uninformed about the facts of this case,” she tells Cheektowaga Chronicle.  “It’s absolutely shocking to me that a town board, in which a good taxpaying corporate citizen has been invested in business for a substantial period of time would fail to even reach out to the company to ask for our side of the story on exactly what’s happening in respect to contract negotiations with the union.”

She says after 37 sessions of contract talks with union representatives, the company presented a contract on May 8th, but the union is trying to paint the picture that the company is not negotiating in good faith.

“We’re a sales company, we’re an engineering company, we’re a distributor for our competitor’s products, and then we sell our own products, and then we manufacture some of our own products,” added Ms. Schroder.  “The reason I think we’re having such difficulty is the union just fails to recognize that or does not understand that despite the significant amount of time we spent at the table trying to educate them about our business.”

The union has gone to the National Labor Relations Board to file around 20 unfair labor practices against the company.  “If we were bargaining in bad faith in terms of getting to a contract, we would have an unfair labor practice on that because this union has brought every possible unfair labor practice against this company, but not that one.”

The proposed contract mirrors a bulk of the corporate handbook in which the employees have been working under for the last few years according to Ms. Schroder. “It is a fair contract.  I’ve been doing collective bargaining for over 30 years.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that first contract.”

Cheektowaga Chronicle obtained a copy of the document.  The two-year deal would provide for wages between $41,600 and $58,000 -before overtime – depending on job classification and a 100 percent 401k match up to 3 percent. 

However, it contains weak union jurisdiction language and an open shop clause; two things a union would fight to change because any employee would be able to perform their work and employees would not be required to join the union or pay dues to be employed by the company.  While those are important topics to talk about, Ms. Schroder says the union is dragging their feet.

“We don’t even know what some of the major issues are because the union continues to try and focus on minutia.  We spent almost and an entire session of bargaining discussing the tuition reimbursement program.”

A program she says has been available to the 30 employees for the past ten years, but no one has utilized it.

“Why aren’t we talking about mandatory overtime? Why aren’t we talking about subcontracting?  Why aren’t we talking about management rights?  These are the things that would be helpful in moving us towards a contract resolution.”

One issue brought up by two union members and Councilmember Brian Nowak last week during the town board’s meeting was safety.

“We have a report from [Western New York Council of Occupational Safety and Health], a local workplace safety organization, and their report showed that there were 32 incidents reported at Wendt between 2013 and 2017,” said Mr. Nowak.

“That is complete red herring.  There is no safety issue at Wendt.  Wendt is one of the most beautiful facilities.  It has an incredible and vigorous safety program,” said Ms. Schroder.  “From what I see of that organization, it is hired by unions for precisely this issue and the things they brought up we feel we already addressed in our workplace.”

Ms. Schroder says Wendt outsources with two safety vendors to inspect the site to ensure compliance with their in-house safety program.

Ten years ago the company faced $169,500 in fines from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failing to fully correct hazards cited during a prior OSHA inspection.  Recently, two people in separate incidents on the same day required medical attention from Forks firefighters according to Cheektowaga Police records.  The last OSHA complaint was filed in June 2012.

Last February the union mobilized outside the facility saying the company is outsourcing their jobs to Mexico and to a unionized contractor in Rochester.  “So the Wendt’s will pay a union wage, just not to its members here – that’s disgusting,” said unionized Wendt employee Jeff George. 

Ms. Schroder says the union presented a hard-line proposal which said the company would not outsource any manufacturing.  A measure which would be devastating to the company’s bottom line according to her because clients overseas would not pay a $1 million shipping fee from Buffalo.

“Our proposal is that the company will continue to subcontract in the same manner that it has been subcontracting for the last decade.  That is a pretty fair proposal and it does not put anyone out of work. It allows the company to meet all its mission-critical deadlines for its customers and its clients, and it allows our other 70 employees to have nice jobs,” said Ms. Schroder adding, “I’ve negotiated hundreds of contracts with lots and lots of unions and I have never had an experience like this, it almost appears to me like the union doesn’t want a contract. Which is the weirdest thing, why wouldn’t they want a contract?  At least the first contract.  Once they get their first contract you can ask for things later on but at least get something signed in ink.”

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