Special Metals steelworkers strike in West Virginia strong after 134 days

By Amy Husk
February 28, 2022

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — “One hundred and thirty-four days! That’s how long we’ve been at this,” striker Jason Hogsett told this Militant worker-correspondent at the main gate picket in front of Special Metals Feb. 11. “There’s no point in giving in now!” The 450 members of United Steelworkers Local 40 have been on strike since Oct. 1.

“The main issue is the attitude of management,” the 16-year veteran in the plant said. “They don’t care about the workers. It wouldn’t be hard for them to give us a decent raise and keep the insurance payments the same. But this is about power and spite.”

Special Metals management has refused to back off from demanding the workers agree to pay substantially more for their insurance, and have offered no raises or insultingly small raises.

Special Metals is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate, which also owns the BNSF Railway, Duracell, Fruit of the Loom, Geico, Helzberg Diamonds, Dairy Queen, Kraft Heinz and many more manufacturing, insurance and other  companies.

At the union hall workers carried in donations of propane tanks and pizza dough. Many local workers and vendors have donated food and other necessities for the strikers and their families.

“Our negotiating committee rejected the company’s ‘last, best, and final offer’ Feb. 3,” said Greg Elkins, one of the organizers at the union hall. “There have been no talks since then. There’s been no money coming in to strikers for four months now. There’s a strike fund where workers can bring their bills to be paid, but no income. Many people have gotten part-time jobs.”

At the main gate I also met Keith Wallace, who works at Walmart while the strike is on. He was picketing with Hogsett. Wallace was trying to hold down a tent when a gust almost took it away. Hogsett said there used to be a wooden shed at the gate but the company made the strikers take it down. The tent up in its place is now tattered and torn.

In January the bosses sent permanent layoff notices to 70 workers. Hogsett said this was a tactic to try to divide and demoralize strikers. After negotiations began again, those workers all got calls saying the layoffs were canceled.

“This is another example of how they don’t care about what happens to people,” said Hogsett. “This tactic was devastating for the workers who got the notices. Being out on strike this long is hard on us, lots of guys are having problems and suffering from depression. Imagine getting a letter saying you’re laid off in the middle of that!”

At the Elm Street gate I met Kevin Owens, a 27-year veteran in the plant and son of a coal miner who worked for Pittston. “We’ve stuck together,” he said. “Not a single member of Local 40 has crossed. At the beginning of the strike the company sent out letters to everyone that said they could continue to report to work and would no longer be affiliated with Local 40. Everyone threw away those letters.

“They are trying to break Local 40. We’ll bend but we won’t break,” he said. “We’ll stay out one day longer.”

Local 40 needs solidarity and donations! Striker Derek Jones, who I met at the union hall, said his wife, Michelle Leadmon Jones, has set up a public Facebook page that lists what donations are needed and where to send them. The link is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/433030618531888/

“We have a lot of new followers. This page was set up to help the 450 union members out on strike from Special Metals!” Leadmon Jones posted Feb. 6. “We have an Amazon wish list setup, a fundraiser for cash donations setup and you can also drop items off at the union hall 24/7. The union hall address is 712 Buffington St. in Huntington, or at my house in Proctorville! If you scroll on this page you’ll see our wish list and fundraiser! Thank you to everyone who has supported Local 40!”