Photo by The North Platte Bulletin
The Greenbrier plant near Hershey
Photo by Dillon Daigger
Inside the plant
The workers at the Greenbrier Rail Services plant near Hershey voted Wednesday to unionize, joining the International Brotherhood of Electricians by a vote of 19–12.All 31 of the workers cast ballots.
The next step is to organize a negotiating committee and begin working on contract provisions, said Mike Thiessen, the chairman of the IBEW Local 1920 at Bailey Yard.
The Greenbrier workers will choose all the members of the committee and will list the provisions they want in a new contract. Negotiation with management could begin in 4-5 weeks, Thiessen said.
Thiessen said this is an historic vote. It is the first Greenbrier plant in the nation to vote to accept a union. It is also one of the first times that a Bailey Yard union has helped organize workers at another company.
Greenbrier’s $23.5 million plant consists of a large building on 34 acres, just 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 and axles are re-profiled. The goal is to make the wheels as symmetrical as possible.
Construction of the Hershey plant began in May 2011. It became operational four months later.
Thiessen said Greenbrier workers might also qualify for railroad retirement benefits, since they work for the railroad. But most of his work is complete, in encouraging the workers to hold an election. He said workers at the plant will be in charge now.
"We had a little reception tonight,” Thiessen said. “It was a festive atmosphere. It was like winning a big football game. A group of people overcame great odds. They stayed together, held their ground, executed their plan and won.”
Greenbrier has 37 locations across North America, according to the company’s website. The company is headquartered in Portland, Ore.
Thiessen said Greenbrier’s CEO, the director of human resources, a plant manager in Oregon and the regional manager all came to Hershey in recent days to talk against organizing.
He said the IBEW "will absolutely do good things for the workers."
“We understand we can’t go anywhere without the company,” Thiessen told the Bulletin a few days before the vote. “We want to integrate into a more efficient model to boost morale and productivity.”
He said workers have complained that ducts were installed for an exhaust system when the plant was built, but the fans were never connected.
Thiessen also 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 t but fans were not installed.
Wages currently run from $14.63 to $18.50 an hour, one of the workers said.
This report was clarified and updated Thursday. This is the second time, insofar as we know, that a Bailey Yard union helped workers at another company get organized. - Editor.