Navigation Bar

Home -> UE News -> 1997 Archives -> Article


Cone Saved,
Workers Return to Jobs

WINDSOR, Vt.

Local 258 Saves Jobs!UE Local 258 members returned to their jobs at Cone Blanchard last month, after saving their plant from a permanent shutdown. All had been laid off, without notice, on Feb. 21. Return to work became possible once the Park Corp. bought the business at a bankruptcy court hearing on June 24 -- but only after some tense days for the members and local officers.

Over the last few years the company got itself into trouble due to difficulties in financing the work, not due to the lack of orders for the Cone Blanchard line of machine tools. The former management tried numerous and varied schemes to re-finance the company, including an employee buyout. In the end, management attempted to have employees put up their own money to back a loan!

Meanwhile, payments on the insurance premiums were neglected; for a while, paycheck deductions went unpaid. In January and February the company missed three paychecks. By February the company was deeply in debt. Jerry Harrington, the chief executive officer, was actively trying to find a buyer.

'TAKE-IT-OR-LEAVE-IT" OFFER

From the workers' perspective, the problem was not only finding a buyer but one who would keep the work here - and recognize the union and accept union-made wage and benefit levels and working conditions.

A shareholders' meeting accepted an offer by the Park Corp. on the condition that it negotiate a new contract with the union. After two weeks of negotiations Park proposed a substandard contract borrowed from another union and told the UE Local 258 committee to take it or leave it.

This was a difficult moment for the union committee. They and their co-workers were out of work and it seemed as though the Park Corp. was the only company willing to buy the plant and get it running again. At that point the Goldman Group - already owners of two UE shops in Springfield, Bryant Grinder and Fellows Gear Shaper - told the union it was seriously interested in the purchasing Cone and would try to negotiate a better agreement. The existence of another potential buyer gave union members under the leadership of Local Pres. Doug Whitcomb the confidence they needed to reject Park's contract offer at a dramatic Sunday morning membership meeting.

STUMBLING BLOCKS

Soon after, Park announced it was walking away from the Cone Blanchard deal. Newspapers blamed the union for the loss of a potential savior. The bank holding the largest share of Cone's debt announced it would hold a foreclosure sale on May 12. Such a sale carried with it the danger that liquidators would dismember the plant, making any return to production impossible.

At this point the union sought legal advice. Local 258 decided that since workers were also creditors, they could force the company into voluntary bankruptcy. By placing Cone into Chapter 11, union members blocked the foreclosure sale - and brought the Park Corp. back to the bargaining table.

In a matter of days the two parties hammered an agreement approved by Local 258 members in a 72-5 vote on May 18.

The next hurdle to overcome was the bankruptcy hearing. The union had confidence that the judge would not allow the company to be liquidated, but there were no guarantees. The Goldman Group was still interested in owning Cone; the union worried that Goldman would consolidate the work in a Springfield plant, resulting in loss of work for Local 258 members, and that Goldman didn't have the money to adequately finance the deal.

PACKED HEARING ROOM

The hearing room in Rutland on June 24 was packed with Cone Blanchard workers and retirees. First ruling against Goldman's objections to the sale, the judge then determined that everyone's interests would be best served by returning the business to operation. An operating business is more likely to pay its debts than a liquidated one, the judge decided. Finding that Park had the resources that Goldman lacked, the judge approved the Park Corporation's offer. Park became the latest owner of Cone Blanchard.

The union persevered and the members remained united through a very complex, confusing and trying period. By the middle of July, UE Local 258 members began their return to work.

The Local 258 Committee was led by Pres. and District Two Sec.-Treas. Doug Whitcomb and assisted by Field Org. Rachel Clough and District Pres. Judy Atkins.

UE News - 08/97


Home -> UE News -> 1997 Archives -> Article

Home  About UE  Organize!  Independent Unions  Search  Site Guide  What's New  Contact UE
UE News  Political Action  Info for Workers  Resources  Education  Health & Safety  International  Links

Copyright 2003 UE. All Rights Reserved