McMinnville rubber plant workers vote to go nonunion

Members of United Steelworkers Local 8378 at Cascade Steel Rolling Mills were among 50 supporters who rallied June 18 in McMinnville to encourage union supporters at RB Rubber.

By Don McIntosh

Four years after workers at a McMinnville rubber recycler voted 34 to 23 to join United Steelworkers of America, they voted 32 to 14 to leave. The vote to decertify the union at RB Rubber Products—in mail ballots counted July 17 by the National Labor Relations Board—came despite gains in the one collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the company. The contract’s 3% annual wage increases outpaced inflation and amounted to a 9.3% raise during the three-year deal, while provisions on seniority and “just cause” discipline helped protect against management favoritism.

But USW Subdistrict 3 director Ron Rodgers said high turnover contributed to the decline in support for the union. Very few original union supporters remained after four years. At about $17 an hour, wages are low at RB Rubber, which is also known as Ultimate RB. And the work is hard — grinding up tires and adding polyurethane binding to produce rubber mats for horse stalls, playground equipment, and other recreational uses.

“Those workers work their asses off,” Rodgers said. “They come out of there covered head to toe black from rubber.”

The union had begun bargaining a second contract, but a newly hired worker decided to gather signatures and file the request for a decertification election on April 14.

To defend the union, a June 18 rally drew 50 participants, including a strong turnout from union fire fighters in McMinnville. And Rodgers set up outside the plant one day a week for six weeks to campaign, but says he struggled to squash rumors that USW had said no to a company proposal for a 15% wage increase.

“I tried to explain: There’s no reason we would to that,” Rodger says.

“I was disappointed and surprised at the vote result,” said Bob Tackett, president of USW Local 330, the local that RB Rubber workers were a part of.

What makes the vote to dump the union more surprising: Most workers were getting union representation without paying for it. The contract with RB Rubber was “open shop,” meaning workers weren’t required to pay union dues. Most never paid, and by the end, only six of 66 workers were paying union dues.

“We’ll keep in touch with the people who wanted a union there and see how things go in the next 12 months,” Rodgers told the Labor Press. “If people realize their mistake, we’ll give it another go.”

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