Locked out: Key moments in Montana's labor past
A timeline of Montana’s labor disputes STORY BY HANNAH KEARSE | STAFF WRITER
IMERYS TALC AMERICA INC. locked its doors to 35 International Brotherhood of Boilermakers union employees in Three Forks, Montana, on August 2, 2018. Randy Tocci, the talc mill’s lead warehouse worker, stood next to the mill’s entrance gate on that hot summer evening. He watched his fellow union workers be escorted off the property in the middle of the afternoon shift. A picket line formed immediately.
Imerys Talc America Inc. and the union workers began negotiating a new contract in May 2018. The company issued a series of final offers to the workers. These terms were rejected four times, leading to one of the most prominent labor disputes in Montana in the last three decades.
The picketing workers stood outside the gates fighting for fair contract terms. Their protest was met with widespread support from the community and local government officials. Government pressure does little more than encourage negotiations with the company and its workers. But Tocci saw the support as a morale booster on the line, and as a way to reach national news outlets.
The locked-out workers sacrificed some of their original terms in search for a compromise so they could return to work. Imerys Talc America Inc. wasn’t as willing to bargain.
“We offered up some supposals and moved from our position to try and get the company to move at all, and really, they showed no movement,” Gary Powers said. Powers was the union representative leading the negotiations.
Tocci has worked at the talc mill for 38 years. He’s seen several changes in ownership during his time and was part of a strike in the 1980s that led to an agreement in only three weeks.
Imerys swept into Montana talc operations in 2011, buying another mill in Sappington, Montana. They also purchased the nation’s biggest talc mine, the Yellowstone Mine, near Ennis, Montana.
The company says its desire to make changes is based on the uncertain future of the talc industry. However, the union found that the company’s books show little to no evidence of future financial problems.
The strike ended after three months, with the company and the union workers reaching an agreement for three-year contracts. The new contracts give the workers some of their terms, with a seniority system, overtime and health insurance coverage after retirement. Union workers returned to work November 5.