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Published: Thursday, 4/13/2006

Key plant for Libbey targeted in walkout

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Workers at a key Libbey Inc. factory in New York, the only U.S. plant where the Toledo firm makes dinner plates, are on strike.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume Tuesday. The labor pact covers about 250 Syracuse China workers, who have been on strike since April 1 after their last four-year contract expired.

The ramifications are unclear, but the tableware maker reported it lost $21 million in last year's fourth quarter, in part because of charges related to idling machines at Syracuse China and reducing inventories.

Key issues center on wages, medical insurance, pensions, and unfair labor practice charges filed April 3 with the National Labor Relations Board, said Kim McNeil, an international representative for the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union, Local 381.

He declined to elaborate on any of the issues because talks are ongoing.

Kenneth Boerger, Libbey's vice president and treasurer, also declined yesterday to discuss the labor rift in detail.

Syracuse China workers were asked to freeze wages for three years as well as to pay more for medical insurance offering lesser coverage, said journeyman machinist Pat Garrett of Fulton, N.Y., who has worked at Syracuse China for 16 years.

"Libbey is trying to act like all their woes are our fault," he said.

The firm has invested money to automate and otherwise improve the factory, Mr. Garrett said. But while the hourly workforce has shrunk from more than 400 workers to about 250, management has stayed the same at about 160 employees, he said.

The company in recent years reclassified all jobs at the plant, eliminating incentives and bonuses and cutting pay, Mr. McNeil said. Average wages at the factory are about $14.50 an hour, he said.

Libbey also began importing dinnerware for workers to decorate, causing concern, he said.

"Absolutely it's an issue, but can we stop it? No," he said. "They're taking American jobs."

Libbey acquired Syracuse China in 1995 for $41 million. The strike is the first at the factory since a walkout of about six weeks' duration in 1978, Mr. McNeil said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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