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Novelis workers decide whether or not to unionize

Gino Geruntino
Novelis recently commissioned two new production lines at its Oswego plant in October.

UpdateAccording to published reports, the vote to unionize failed by a total of 14 votes. 

Earlier coverage:

Employees of Novelis Aluminum in Oswego are voting today to determine whether or not 600 employees at the plant will unionize.

James Ridgeway, an international union representative for the United Steelworkers Union, says workers from Novelis contacted him in mid-December to begin the unionization process, citing several changes that have occurred since Novelis purchased the plant.

A month later, workers filed cards with the National Labor Relations Board Office in Buffalo, to schedule an election.

"A lot of this is about making sure with the workers that they don't lose anything else, and that they know what to expect going forward," Ridgeway said. "As we told them, Novelis would not think of buying ingots of aluminum from an Alcoa or from anybody else without a written contract as to how much they're going to pay for those ingots, for the raw materials."

Ridgeway says workers showed interest in forming a union in order to keep the benefits they have, and says they were able to pull support together quickly.

"To be able to file for an election, you have to have at least 30 percent of the cards, it's called a community of interest," Ridgeway explained. "We actually filed with over 70 percent of the cards signed."

Ridgeway says employees expressed problems with rising health care costs, overtime pay changes and the elimination of retiree health insurance.

He also says the United Steelworkers Union currently has relationships with four other Novelis locations, and says if the vote passes, he expects the two groups to work together.

Plant Manager Chris Smith issued a statement regarding the vote, saying: 

Novelis has a 50 year history of employing an outstanding workforce in Oswego. Our goal is to continue to maintain a direct relationship with our employees in an atmosphere of mutual trust as we grow our business through significant expansions underway. Novelis respects the rights of our employees to vote on whether they want a labor union, but we believe that self-representation is in the best interests of our employees and our business.

Production, maintenance, quality control and shipping and receiving workers would be part of the union if the vote were to pass. The results of the vote will be available at around nine tonight.