The Day - Defender Industries warehouse workers on strike - News from southeastern Connecticut
Defender Industries warehouse workers on strike
Published September 04. 2015 3:10PM
Updated September 04. 2015 3:24PM
By Lee Howard
Waterford — About 30 unionized warehouse workers at Defender Industries went out on strike Friday to complain about what they called unfair disciplinary policies.
Workers, who said they have been without a contract
since they voted 24-7 to join Teamsters Local 493 last November, lined up outside the main entrance of the boat-supply store waving signs that read "To Err is Human." Some people turned away from the store to support the union cause, and strikers encouraged customers to go to a West Marine
"It's not a comfortable place to work," said Tim Schlesser of Groton, a nine-year Defender employee who has been the main union negotiator. "They don't appreciate their workers."
A Defender spokesman said the company would have no comment about the strike.
Workers are complaining about a disciplinary policy that they say has led to about a dozen firings at the warehouse since the union took over. This compares to only two firings in the previous two years, they said.
The complaints revolve around a policy that they say is too restrictive, leading to good workers being disciplined for minor mistakes
— even if those errors don't make it out of the warehouse. Errors are compiled every time they happen and can only be wiped out by six months of mistake-free work, workers said.
Randall Bryant of Waterford said he was just suspended for one week without pay for a packing error that involved putting one extra small item into a shipping
"I'm almost out the door," he said. "If I have one more error, I'm fired."
Suspension occurs with the fifth error, and a sixth mistake means automatic firing, union members said. Workers have tried to compromise with the company to develop a different disciplinary system that might forgive errors discovered by quality control or grade errors based on seriousness, but union members said the company won't budge on its policy.
Workers said they think the company has started enforcing its disciplinary policy more strictly in an attempt to oust the union, and turnover has been high since November. They added that it has been nearly a year since the union was voted in but the company has made little progress in negotiating a contract
that pays $11.50 to start and $13.05 for senior workers.
Dave Avery of Killingly said Defender has been using office workers to staff the warehouse, and a few workers crossed union lines because of special situations. He added that the shipping
company UPS's Teamster workers have been honoring the strike but Defender has been talking to FedEx to make sure shipments can continue to be sent out to customers.
The union voted Thursday night to strike at a meeting at the Clarion Inn in New London. It is unclear how long the strike will last, but workers said they were willing to stay out as long as it takes to make the company come around and negotiate in good faith.
"It's like a family
— all of us care," said union negotiator Schlesser. "We're going to get through this."