GWINNER - Doosan Bobcat North America and the union representing most of the company’s production workers in Gwinner are at odds over several issues, among them safety, bereavement leave and mandatory overtime.
William Wilkinson, president of the United Steelworkers Local 560, said Friday, May 22, that union members on May 2 voted overwhelmingly to support a motion of no confidence in the company’s management.
In an editorial page submission to The Forum, he wrote that the 96% support for the measure from those voting was “staggering but not surprising.”
On Friday, Wilkinson said union members are unhappy that workers have been laid off, then those hours must be made up by requiring mandatory overtime to be taken on by the remaining workers.
He also said that leaves of absence are a thorny issue, particularly for union members who wish to attend the funerals of someone other than a close family member. Wilkinson added that the three-day allowance for bereavement leave seemed inappropriately short for grieving the loss of a close relative.
Wilkinson said these concerns, along with worries about maintaining the health of workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, have had a corrosive effect on morale.
He said about 1,250 of the 1,320 hourly workers at the Gwinner plant are members of Local 560.
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Wilkinson said the long overtime shifts are more grueling, with more repetitive motion and lifting. The overtime also comes with short notice, meaning workers sometimes are forced to miss appointments and other commitments.
Wilkinson said management has also failed to do enough contact tracing of COVID-19 cases. “They’re not being very effective at it,” he said.
He said that in general, safety concerns need to be acted on more quickly
Another sore point is that bereavement leave is limited to three days for close family members. He said it’s also difficult to arrange to attend funerals for friends or more distant relatives.
Doosan Bobcat North America spokeswoman Stacey Breuer said Friday in an emailed statement that the company had sought "a greater spirit of partnership" with the union, particularly through the pandemic.
The vote is “not representative of all Gwinner employees but only of those who attended the meeting, and it is our understanding that was a small number of the total eligible employees. In fact, we are proud to have a strong relationship with all of our employees across North Dakota," Breuer wrote.
“We are pleased to provide bereavement leave consistent with the collective bargaining agreement. However, if an employee has a need for additional days, they can request additional time off. Since we have several families who work at Bobcat – mother, father, son, daughter, uncle – we are used to accommodating requests outside of our standard bereavement leave policy,” Breuer wrote.
She also addressed the overtime issue.
“In the past couple months, our production facilities have been offline multiple times for a variety of reasons. Therefore, we have asked production employees to work overtime to respond to the demand required as an essential manufacturer and in alignment with our collective bargaining agreement," she wrote.
Breuer added that the firm was committed to a safe workplace and met or exceeded Centers for Disease Control guidelines.