WINSLOW, Maine — Union leaders claim a manufacturer here has fired several workers for trying to organize employees into a labor union, allegations the company’s president firmly denies.
ALCOM Inc., which manufactures aluminum trailers for snowmobiles and other vehicles, fired five employees — four on Friday and one on Monday — who were involved with organizing employees to join the Laborers International Union of North America, which represents 500 workers in Maine, according to Devin Mayo, an organizer with the union.
Corey Gerard, an ALCOM employee for two years, said he was fired on Friday in a public fashion designed to intimidate the rest of the employees.
The company’s operations manager “implied that word of the union activity was spreading” before firing him Friday morning right after he punched in, Gerard said.
“He made sure people could see that he was firing me,” Gerard said. “He didn’t take me into the office or call me up on the phone. He did it right in front of everybody.”
Shawn Nutt of Vassalboro said he was fired on Friday.
“It’s clear to me that I was fired because I support the union and want to have a voice on the job,” Nutt said in a statement released by the Maine AFL-CIO. “The company is trying to scare us.”
Trapper Clark, CEO of ALCOM, confirmed that employees were let go, but denied claims that they were fired for union activity.
“We would never do that,” he said.
“[The claims] are completely false and it’s unfortunate that [the unions] would even print something like that,” Clark told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday.
ALCOM employs roughly 185 people at its manufacturing facility in Waterville, along with another 40 at a facility in Montana, Clark said.
Clark wouldn’t disclose the company’s revenue figures, but said it has experienced as much as 45 percent year-over-year growth the last couple years.
“ALCOM’s success has been driven by our dedicated employees and the quality products they build every day and the industry dealer base that we have,” Clark said. “We’ve been successful over the years and we’re going to continue to be successful the way we have been, which is never, ever illegal. We wouldn’t do that.”
Clark worries that such public accusations by the union and former employees could damage the company.
“We are highly concerned that non-truthful statements could hurt our sales and potential retail customer base. That is a great concern of ours,” Clark said.
After a moment, he added, “I think at the end of the day ALCOM’s reputation and commitment to quality won’t allow that to happen.”
As evidence of the company’s dedication to its employees, Clark said ALCOM recently increased its contribution to the health insurance plan, thereby lowering rates for its employees.
“We actually polled all our employees to ask what rate they could afford and we committed to cover the rest of that number to get them there,” Clark said. “That was done before any notification of any union talk. Not in response to it.”
Gerard, 30, said he worked in the company’s weld shop and most recently on the finishing line. He has been involved in unionizing activities since April, he said.
He said he wants to belong to the union for job security and better working conditions. He said the company’s management has been “very vulgar, very masculine, very pushy.
“I tried standing up for 183 guys and as soon as I went down, nobody would back me up, because they’re intimidated,” he said.
To join the union, organizers would need to get 50 percent of the employees to sign union cards. Gerard said they had roughly 70 signatures and only need a dozen or so more.
“We’re close, so close to unionizing,” Gerard said.
However, the firings have made employees nervous, Gerard said.
“I’ve talked to the other employees and they are very scared to unionize now,” Gerard said.
Mayo said the laborers’ union, known as LIUNA, plans to file on behalf of the fired employees an Unfair Labor Practice charge against ALCOM with the National Labor Relations Board, though he wouldn’t specify when. The filing could trigger an investigation by the board.
Mayo said he will remain involved in unionizing activities at ALCOM, but ultimately it’s “in the workers’ hands. They’re the ones pushing for representation. My place in it is to focus their energy, and to make sure their rights are recognized.”