First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON -- Employees at Buckeye Lumberton Inc. have found their voice.
A majority of the Buckeye employees voted Thursday for unionization, therefore paving the way for the only industrial union in Robeson County. Buckeye makes raw materials for paper products.
F. Gray Carter, vice president of operations at the Lumberton plant, said in a statement that the “reported result of the voting today indicates that a majority of the affected employees favor a union. The employees through the voting process have made their wishes known.”
Carter refused to verify a report from a Buckeye employee who said that the final vote count was 62-28. Ninety-one of the plant's 120 employees -- hourly employees in production and maintenance -- were eligible to vote.
The results are preliminary and will be verified in the next few days by the National Labor Relations Board. If Buckeye officials file an objection, the labor board could conduct an investigation or hold a hearing.
“Buckeye will continue to work to improve the business and the relationship we have with our employees,” Carter said in his statement. “Buckeye's energy continues to be focused on serving our customers; this is our number one priority.”
If the vote is verified, Buckeye employees will join with the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers International Union.
Greg Cummings, county economic development director, says he is afraid a union at Buckeye will discourage other industries from locating in the county. He says the first question a prospective plant asks is whether a county has unions.
“When you're losing plants and trying to compete against other counties in the state as well as neighboring states like Virginia and South Carolina, having a union in your county is one more strike against you,” Cummings said. “It is easier for the industry to just go somewhere else than worry about fighting unions.”
Repeated calls to PACE organizer James Broaddus were not returned.
According to the PACE Web site, the Nashville, Tenn.-based union represents more than 320,000 workers in the paper, oil, chemical, atomic, pharmaceutical, corn milling, kaolin and auto parts industries.
On Sept. 4, PACE filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to represent Buckeye employees.
Carter had no comment on the reasons for the employees' unionization, but an employee said that workers were tired having their benefits reduced.
“The main reason for the union is to save the spirit and integrity of what used to be Alpha Cellulose,” said the employee, who did not wish to be named.
Buckeye bought the plant from Alpha Cellulose about two years ago.
“The boys are just tired of it,” he said. “Whenever Alpha Cellulose used to be there, we had a family organization, and when they took over they took everything away from us.”
The employee said that decisions used to be discussed with employees but that, under Buckeye management, employees were kept in the dark.
The employee said that the benefits package, which was previously considered one of the better offers for industrial employees, has been changed for the worse.
“I went to work there because of the benefits, and now it seems they want to take our benefits away from us,” he said.
The employee said that work schedules were changed to eliminate weekend overtime pay, sick leave was shortened from two weeks to four “personal days” and bonuses were cut from twice a year to once a year.
“We're not getting one (bonus) this year at all,” he said. “They said we didn't make enough money. If they take that away from us now, we might never see that bonus again. We're trying to keep what we've got. They keep taking things away from us all the time.”
The employee said that vacation time hasn't been cut.
Plant officials talked to employees Wednesday night and Thursday morning to encourage them to vote against the union, the employee said.
“They wanted to talk to us but they didn't want to listen to us before, so why would they listen to us now?” the employee said. “All the boys that work just want to be treated fair. We need a voice for us.”
The plant opened in Lumberton in 1968 and has been at 1000 E. Noir St. since 1995.