Special Metals Strike Passes 100 Days


Evan Green, Features Editor

For over 100 days, workers at the Huntington branch of the Special Metals Corporation have been striking against several changes made by the company. The strike first began on October 1, 2021, when 450 of the company’s union workers walked out. Since then, numerous contracts have been proposed by the company; but so far, Special Metals has been unable to develop a contract that appeases the requests of the workers.  

“Right now, they’re stuck on the insurance and our pay,” said Johnny Allen, one of the striking workers, who chose not to disclose his real name for the purpose of this story. “That’s what they’re trying to get hashed out.”  

While many of the specifics of these contracts have not been disclosed, the main issues of concern—in addition to their pay and insurance—are vacation time and safety issues. “At least get us back to where we were and give us a raise, like a cost-of-living raise,” said Allen in response to what he would want to be included in a revised contract. 

“These skilled workers showed up throughout the pandemic, ensuring continued production of critical supplies needed for national defense, aerospace, and energy production,” reads the official statement released by United Steelworkers (USW) Local 40. “In return for their hard work, Special Metals which is part of a massive global company, sought to cut workers’ wages and benefits and take away critical seniority and safety protections.”  

The USW website also lists a number of different ways that people can show their support for the strike, including displaying a solidarity sign, donating to the strike, or stopping by the picket line. 

Earlier in January, Special Metals sent layoff notices to 75 of their employees; but the company seems to have rescinded those layoffs and the employees who received the notices will still have their jobs once the strike comes to an end. According to striking workers, these layoffs were unusual in that they were meant to be permanent before they were rescinded. It is unknown whether these layoffs were made independent of or in response to the strike, as layoffs are not uncommon for the company (with the most recent occurring in August 2021). 

Negotiations have been tense throughout the strike, with Special Metals seeming to worsen their offer after the first contract was rejected. “It’s almost like they got [expletive] off because we turned down their first offer, and then when they came back with the next one. It was way off. It was really, really bad,” stated another one of the striking workers manning the picket line who also chose not to reveal his name. 

The latest contract was given to workers on January 13 and was rejected by the union’s negotiating committee. The details of the contract were not made public, so there is no way to know what led the union to shoot the contract down. However, Special Metals has reportedly left this contract on the table if union representatives change their minds.  

After the negotiations meeting on January 13, Special Metals did not make arrangements to hold another meeting until this week, but this has only led the strikers to double down on their efforts. A large rally was held on the morning of January 22 to show support for the strike. In attendance were members of several other local union groups who came to stand in solidarity with their fellow members of the working class.

An important moment came for the strike effort on January 25, when the Huntington City Council voted to pass a resolution encouraging an end to the strike. The resolution very intentionally did not show support for one side over the other, but rather encouraged both parties to “come together and settle the current impasse.”  

The vote was fairly close at 6-4, as one member of the council abstained due to Special Metals being a client of her law firm. Those opposed to the resolution stated that it was not the council’s place to interfere in the matter, while those in favor believed it was important to help move the discussion forward.  

Many of the strikers hope that the support shown at the rally alongside the resolution will help to encourage negotiations to start back up again between the company and the union.  

This strike is already the longest in the company’s history, with the previous longest being a ten-week strike in 1999. If the strike were to end today, though, Special Metals would still be poised to lose at least 20 employees due to them either retiring or finding other jobs, and that number will likely only increase as the strike continues.  

 “We have to continue the path we’re on until they decide to negotiate again,” said Allen when asked what he believed the strikers should do in the face of the stalling in negotiations. 

Negotiations have been scheduled to take place between the strikers and Special Metals this week after union representatives spoke to state legislators about the details of the strike in Charleston.