Remarkable Saga of United Steel Workers #2324


“The simple fact is that management will do everything in its power to keep from having to share money with its...employees. This is not an hysterical tirade or camouflaged “socialist” message…It’s merely pointing out an obvious economic truth: No matter how much they have, or how much more they stand to gain, businesses want to hang on to their money.” – David Macary, CounterPunch Magazine

As it is with most other small towns here in the Appalachian foothills, time has not been kind to tiny Oak Hill, Ohio.

Once a bustling Welsh American version of the fictional Mayberry, the village’s main artery was shuttered by the mid-nineties, owing first to the gradual disappearance of the brick plants that for a century served as the town’s economic lifeblood, followed by the (mostly non-union) construction of a brand new Walmart a scant dozen miles up State Route 93.

Gone with the business district are most of the durable men and women of Oak Hill’s union-based working class: coal miners, electrical workers and foundry floor laborers who broached no transgression of the proud collective bargaining tradition that protected them from wholesale exploitation.

All of which makes even more remarkable the saga of United Steel Workers Union #2324.

Located a few miles outside Oak Hill is the small plant alternately known as A.P. Green and ANH Refractories, a longtime union shop that produces heat-resistant clay linings for industrial use. (ANH’s parent company is Harbison-Walker International, a conglomerate last heard from in the early-2000s for major asbestos infractions and direct ties to Halliburton.)

ANH garnered its own negative attention when it on April 15 of last year directed its Oak Hill officials to break off contract negotiations with Local 2324 and impose an immediate lockout.

Frustrated but willing to allow its existing contract to remain in force as a good faith gesture, the 43-member local’s offer was quickly rebuffed, setting the stage for what has become a nine-month and counting suspension of operations.

As Local members responded with a vigil outside the plant’s gates, they described an increasingly “mind game” anti-union company culture in which ownership refused to supply toilet paper and tow motors went without brakes.

Even as the shop steward and other 2324 members stood vigil, its union-busting management announced a new offer – a formulated bill of goods meant to cripple the union if approved: the elimination of seniority; a reduction in the starting wage and; sharp increases in the employee share of health insurance premiums.

While ANH has remained mostly silent since tendering its terms, the Local has been aided in its plight by the United Steel Workers and Cincinnati office of the National Labor Relations Board.

In a release from earlier this month the NLRB announced it would be filing a complaint against ANH alleging regressive bargaining practices, unlawful forced stoppage and illegal surveillance of picketing union members.

The Board further stated that unless ANH reaches an agreement on these charges, a lawsuit will be filed with an administrative court asserting the company “ back liability to all workers for the time period the NLRB determines they were illegally locked out.”

The USW has likewise joined the fray. Within weeks of investigating ANH/A.P. Green’s action, USW District 1 Director Dave McCall promised the workers legal counsel and called on the company to end its illegal lockout and return to the table:

“Our members belong at their jobs in the plant instead of on the picket line. A.P. Green should abandon its drive to starve them into accepting unfair and unnecessary concessions … A.P. Green will not escape responsibility for the company’s decision to hold our jobs, families and community hostage over issues that should be resolved through collective bargaining ...”

But based on its parent company’s checkered labor relations history, ANH will respond in one of three ways: 1. resume negotiations; 2. risk going to court absorb the hit or; 3. close the gates for good.

Given Harbeson-Walker’s historical willingness to enter bankruptcy as a means to regroup, USW officials are hoping for the first option but preparing Local 2324 for the third.

Labor disputes have long been a part of life here in the hills and hollows of southeastern Ohio as local unions and exploitative operators have squared off over how to divide the spoils of the land.

Longtime friends of unions here and beyond will take a bittersweet approach to the saga of Local 2324. On the one hand we cheer the workers of 2324 and their time-honored stand for the economic and moral right.

And on the other? On the other we’re reminded that as with the little town that gives the plant its geographical name, time has not been kind to the once great American labor union.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Jackson, Ohio. Email

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2016

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