By DON McINTOSH
By all appearances, HIS Innovations Group is thriving. The Hillsboro high-tech firm makes vacuum tubing and high-purity fittings and components used in semiconductor manufacturing. Portland Business Journal named it “Manufacturing Company of the Year” in 2020 among companies with 51 to 100 employees. In October, it was acquired by publicly traded Ultra Clean Holdings for $50 million up front — plus another $50 million if it hits earnings benchmarks for 2023.
It was a fat payday for the company’s founders and investors, but not a dime of it was shared with the 10 pipefitters who make the products the company sells. Workers there are treated well and get free sodas and Gatorade. But at $26 to $32 an hour, they’re also grossly underpaid — $3 to $9 an hour below what union members with equivalent skills would earn. The raise they got this year was 3%, after a year of 8% inflation.
Pipefitters, tired of being paid less than they’re worth, signed cards to join United Association of Plumbers Local 290. On Dec. 4, Local 290 asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a union election to certify that the union has majority support.
“Shame on HIS for making such profits on the back of labor without taking care of the labor,” said Local 290 Organizer Todd Templeton.
In response, HIS Innovations hired national anti-union law firm Fisher Phillips, which filed a legal objection to drag out the process. The objection is to recognizing a bargaining unit of 11 pipefitters. Though the NLRB has ruled that such “craft-based” bargaining units are acceptable, company lawyers say really the union should also include 11 other workers who haven’t yet expressed interest in joining — including workers who weld frames and spools.
The company held an anti-union meeting for both those workers and the pipefitters, presided over by company President Jason Frank. Frank, a millionaire, told the $26-an-hour pipefitters they are family — and in that family, workers could somehow end up with lower wages if they unionize. Anti-union talking points like that are so routine and predictable that workers who know what to expect sometimes come to anti-union meetings with bingo cards listing those arguments. “Bingo,” one HIS worker texted Templeton at one point in the meeting.
No election date has been set.