Angry Union Employees Protest Lockout Weeks Before the Holidays

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After two weeks of contract negotiations, a local manufacturing company locked out its nearly 200 union employees. The lockout started at midnight on Monday. Many of those workers spent Monday picketing in front of Milbank Manufacturing as a federal mediator tries to help both sides come to an agreement.

Milbank Manufacturing CEO and President Lavon Winkler says the company is a leading manufacturer of what are called 'meter sockets' -- an essential to getting power into your home or business. Winkler says the company had no choice but to lock out union employees at midnight after being unable to reach an agreement with United Steel Workers Local Number 13.

The union employees say they came to work on like they have -- in some cases -- for decades, but weren't allowed in Monday. Union President Bob Hill says it's an unlawful lockout.

"My people want to go to work," he said. "We told them we'd go to work and still bargain with them. They said, 'No, we're going to lock you out."

The company says when the union rejected its contract that offered competitive raises and benefits, it had no choice but to lock its doors.

"If we get to the end of the negotiating process we've extended a very fair and competitive offer, which we have, and the union decides not to ratify it then our position is, we just lock the gate," said Winkler.

Dividing issues include salary increases, absenteeism and healthcare. The union says members are being asked to pay 25 percent of their gross wages on health care costs, while Winkler says he's concerned about the percentage of his workers who aren't showing up. Winkler says the absenteeism rate at the Kansas City plant last week was 25 percent.

Assembly worker Rodrick Sparks says union members just want what's fair.

"They need to give us fair wages," he said. "They need to give us fair insurance; they need to give us the things we deserve to be able to take care of our families. We're not asking to be rich, we're asking to be able to take care of our families."

Winkler says he wants what's fair too and wants workers back to work as soon as possible.

"I feel bad for those folks," he said. "I don't like the fact that here we have the holiday coming upon us, you know, Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner. They'd like to be working. We'd like them to be working; we just need to come to an agreement."

Winkler says until an agreement is reached, Milbank's supervisors, salaried and temporary employees will fill the roles and responsibilities of union employees who have been locked out.

No agreement was reached Monday night. Discussion will resume on Tuesday.

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