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Kent wire mill strikes over layoffs, alleged labor law violations

Workers at the Davis Wire mill picket in front of the Kent plant on 80th Avenue South on Monday.  - Mark Klaas/Kent Reporter
Workers at the Davis Wire mill picket in front of the Kent plant on 80th Avenue South on Monday.
— image credit: Mark Klaas/Kent Reporter

Workers at the Davis Wire mill in Kent went on strike early Monday morning in response to mass layoffs and other alleged unlawful actions by the company, Teamster claim.

Picket lines were established at 6 a.m. at the company, 19411 80th Ave. S.

Teamsters said the company laid off 27 employees at the Kent facility – nearly a third of its unionized workforce – just three days after a strike vote. Workers overwhelmingly voted to strike on May 12; the company laid off workers on May 15.

"I have no doubt that these layoffs are retaliatory in nature," said Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. "For Davis Wire to purposely destroy workers' livelihoods and eliminate local manufacturing jobs in an economy that is struggling to recover is unconscionable."

Harry Stang, outside labor counsel for Davis Wire, said Monday that workers received adequate advance notice on layoffs, and that "there was no correlation" between the strike vote and the layoffs.

"Our primary concern is we have a fine group of workers who were led into an unfortunate strike," Stang said.

According to Thompson, Davis Wire threatened to move work out of state and close down the Kent facility unless the Union agreed to the company's terms in bargaining.

Local 117 has filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that the layoffs represent a violation of federal labor law. In the last month, the company has been accused of 11 additional violations of the law, including bad faith bargaining, worker surveillance, worker intimidation and illegal threats to shut down the facility in Kent.

Stang calls the charges "false" and "totally tactical" on behalf of the union.

"All the charges will be defended in due course," he said.

In addition to the Unfair Labor Practice charges, workers have joined a class-action lawsuit accusing their employer of denying them the right to take rest and meal breaks and working employees without paying them over a three year period.

The Teamsters' complaint, which was filed in King County Superior Court on April 30, describes sweatshop-like conditions, in which employees were pressured to work 12-hour shifts without a break and eat lunch at their work stations while operating dangerous machinery.

Davis Wire is one of four manufacturers in the Heico Wire Group. Over the last few years, four workers have been killed in industrial accidents at Heico facilities across the country, Teamsters said.

At the Kent facility, workers have suffered serious injuries, including wire punctures, broken bones and mangled fingers, according to Teamsters. Last week a machine operator was injured and hospitalized after his hand got caught between two spinning rollers of a fabric machine, Teamsters said.

Stang said the union has been obstructive with concerns about safety issues.

"There's been no cooperation in safety improvements," he said

The 85 workers at the Kent facility have been without a contract since Dec. 1.

Davis Wire also operates plants in Irwindale, Calif., and Pueblo, Colo.

Stang would not elaborate on the strike's details, nor expand on talks.

"We don't negotiate through the media," Stang said. "Negotiations will be done at the table. Most of the (union's) press release is false propaganda.

"The company is trying to keep the Kent (plant) competitive, but the union doesn't want to cooperate."

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