About 95 employees of DuPont Co.’s Spruance plant in Chesterfield County have been locked out of work by the company for more than a month after negotiations over a new union contract stalled.
The labor disagreement has prompted concern from some members of Congress because the products made at the plant are considered vital to national interests.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW, described the control equipment technician employees as skilled electrical and instrumentation professionals who perform maintenance on machines that manufacture three of the key products produced at the Spruance plant: Kevlar, Nomex and Tyvek.
Kevlar is a high-strength but lightweight material used in products such as bullet-resistant vests and automotive components.
Nomex is a heat-resistant material used in clothing worn by firefighters.
Tyvek is a water and microbial-resistant material used in a variety of applications, including protective personal garments worn by first responders and medical professionals, packaging for medical products, and protective insulation for housing.
DuPont and the union may return to the bargaining table on Dec. 2, according to a union representative.
“It has had a severe economic impact on these employees,” said Neil F. Gray, a regional representative in Virginia for the IBEW. “These employees are highly skilled and they are well-compensated, but many of them have been forced to find other employment.”
Negotiations started in August for a new three-year contract, Gray said. The initial contract was extended but then expired on Oct. 7 without an agreement. The lockout started the next day, and employees have been without pay since Oct. 11, Gray said.
Among the issues in the negotiations are the union’s request for 5% pay raises for the employees each of the next three years, while the company asked for concessions on overtime pay and more management power in the future contract, according to the union.
“Throughout this time, we have been bargaining in good faith with the IBEW to reach a mutually beneficial agreement,” DuPont said in a statement sent by a spokesperson on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, we do not have a contract and are disappointed that this matter remains unresolved,” the company said. “To ensure our people and site continue to operate safely, we made the difficult decision to lockout IBEW-represented employees at the site. We remain committed to reaching an agreement with the IBEW as soon as possible that is beneficial to our employees, our site, our business, and our community for the long term.”
In the absence of the maintenance technicians, the company said it is using “experienced and trained contractors” to perform the maintenance roles.
Gray said a mediator with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has been involved in negotiations.
The lockout prompted 17 members of Congress to send a letter on Nov. 5 to DuPont Co. Chairman and CEO Edward D. Breen and IBEW President Lonnie Stephenson, urging the parties to work toward an agreement.
Among the Congress members who signed the letter was U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th.
“We hope the parties’ contract issues will be successfully resolved in a good-faith bargaining process,” the letter said. “As elected representatives, we believe a good-faith opportunity to hammer out a mutually beneficial contract is in the best interests of everyone involved.”