Photo by Dillon Daigger
Work in the Greenbrier plant
The 31 workers at Greenbrier Rail Services are on the verge of deciding if they want to become members of the International Brotherhood of Electricians.A vote is scheduled on June 4, said Mike Thiessen, the chairman of the IBEW Local 1920 at Bailey Yard.
Thiessen said the Bailey Yard workers want to bring Greenbrier into their union, which the first time a Bailey Yard union has helped organize another company.
Thiessen said work toward unionizing the plant has been going on for more than two months.
Greenbrier’s $23.5 million plant consists of a large building on 34 acres. It is a mile east of Hershey on the south side of U.S. Highway 30.
Inside the main building, railcar wheel sets are re-machined and fitted. Axles are also re-profiled, Greenbrier operations controller Bob Herigodt said as the plant was opening. The goal is to make the wheels as symmetrical as possible.
Construction of the Hershey plant began in May 2011 and it became operational four months later.
“We’re happy to be here,” Herigodt said at the start-up. “You can’t beat the work ethic and common sense of people here. This is the most automated plant in the industry. We expect to be here a long time.”
But Thiessen said Tuesday that some of the workers are not well treated. For instance, ducts were installed for an exhaust system when the plant was built but fans were not installed, he said.
In another instance, Thiessen said management told workers if they worked on President’s Day they could have Good Friday off, but reneged on that promise as Easter weekend approached. When the union asked questions, the crew got Good Friday off after all.
It’s a sign of what a union could do, Thiessen said.
Also, Thiessen said workers are not always promoted become to “A level” operators even when they are qualified. He said workers at the Hershey plant are paid below the average wage for Greenbrier workers nationwide.
Wages run from $14.63 to $18.50 an hour, one of the workers said.
Greenbrier has 37 locations across North America, according to the company’s website. The company is headquartered in Portland, Ore.
The pending vote has sparked some low-level signs of conflict. Workers who favor the union have worn green shirts for the last two Thursdays that say “I’m a worker. I deserve a voice.”
And on Tuesday, two supporters from Local 1920 held signs along the highway that said, “Local 1920 Loves Greenbrier” but a sheriff’s officer broke up the demonstration.
Lincoln County Chief Deputy Sheriff Roland Kramer said union organizers talked to the office a month or so ago and said they might want to work from the shoulder of U.S. 30.
“We told them not to, for safety reasons,” Kramer said. “It’s a distraction for motorists. The shoulders are meant for an emergency. There is a big intersection right there for truck traffic. It’s just not safe.”
So when the demonstration was held Tuesday, a sheriff's lieutenant told them to move along.
"It was strictly for safety reasons," Kramer said. “That’s the only reason. We don’t have an interest in whether they unionize or not."
Thiessen said he'd previously asked the LCSO about handing out flyers from the driveway. He said this time they were across the road from the driveways. He said there is no reason to fight about it.
The workers just want more respect.
“We understand we can’t go anywhere without the company,” Thiessen said. “We want to integrate into a more efficient model to boost morale and productivity.”
Thiessen said Greenbrier workers might also qualify for railroad retirement benefits, since they do work for the railroad.