Bobcat Workers Strike In Bismarck

Negotiations on new labor contract failed; USW represents about 780 employees.

Bismarck, ND (AP) — Unionized workers at the Bobcat Co. plant here went on strike Saturday after the company and the union negotiators failed to agree on a new labor contract.

Steve Chmielewski, president of Local 566 of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, said the labor contract expired on Saturday at 7 AM. He said workers began walking the picket line early Saturday afternoon.

Chmielewski said the union represents about 780 employees.

Bobcat, which is based in West Fargo, has plants in Bismarck and Gwinner, in southeastern North Dakota. Bobcat is a unit of Ingersoll-Rand Co. Ltd., an equipment manufacturer.

Company spokeswoman Wendy Bost said the plant has a total of about 1,100 workers, including 300 salaried, nonunion employees.

She said the plant, which makes machinery for light construction, would continue to operate with a skeleton crew.

“We do plan to operate with a crew from the salaried workforce at this point,” she said.

Said Chmielewski: “We will try to prevent any nonmember from crossing the picket line.”

Bismarck Police Sgt. Dave Draovitch said no problems had been reported on Saturday.

Workers are asking for increased wages and better health care benefits, Chmielewski said.

“A worker in 2001, he was taking home more money than he is today with (increased) health care costs,” Chmielewski said. “We are looking for 100 percent payment for health care and wages substantially increased.”

Union and company officials had been negotiating for about two weeks on a new contract, Chmielewski said.

“We are deeply disappointed that the union has rejected the company’s best offer,” Dennis Schneider, vice president of global operations, said in a statement. “Bobcat is committed to meet with the union’s committee in good faith and to hopefully resolve this impasse.”

Schneider said the company is “trying to balance our employees’ concerns with the economic realities of a highly competitive global market, and then balance the desires for short-term improvements with long-term viability of a business.”

Bobcat employs more than 2,600 people in North Dakota.

The plant in Gwinner is not affected by the strike. “Their contract expires in December,” Chmielewski said.

Chmielewski said that the striking workers are prepared to picket the plant “until we achieve our resolve —we want our demands met.”

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