ATMI workers file complaint; company says lockout over
By Denise Linke For The Beacon-News December 12, 2011 7:10PM
Sandy Nickerson of West Dundee, left, and Joe Stupec of Aurora, right, protest outside of ATMI Precast in Aurora on Monday, December 12, 2011. "I feel bad for these people," Stupec said, "It happened to me a long time ago and I never forgot it." | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 14, 2012 8:18AM
AURORA — Protesters returned to picket ATMI Precast Inc. Monday, 12 days after several dozen employees, families and grassroots labor groups staged a march and rally in support of workers’ attempt to unionize.
They also filed unfair labor practice charges on behalf of one of the four ATMI employees who said they were fired last week for participating in that Dec. 1 rally.
“We’re human beings supporting other human beings,” said Leone Bicchieri, executive director of the Chicago Workers Collaborative, which filed the complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
According to the complaint, Fernando Yanez had been working at ATMI since 1998 as a carpenter and laborer when he joined the rally to protest alleged discrimination against Mexican-born employees. ATMI managers came out and photographed employees who were there as an intimidation tactic, the CWC charged.
On Dec. 6, Yanez and several other employees presented a petition signed by 72 Hispanic employees asking to review their personnel files so they could prove discrimination in pay raises and promotions, Yanez wrote in a rider to the complaint. The same day, “I was terminated from my employment with ATMI Precast, Inc. in retaliation for my objecting to discriminatory practices at the company,” Yanez stated in the rider.
During Monday’s protest, former employee Valentin Delgada complained that he also was fired last week for participating in the rally and petition. “I worked there more than a year and never had a complaint (about job performance) until now,” he said in Spanish, as Bicchieri translated. “I ask that you keep supporting us so we can go back to work.”
The Dec. 1 rally protested ATMI’s decision Nov. 28 to fire any employee who refused to return from a lockout imposed while workers were attempting to unionize with Teamsters Local 673, said Mary Shesgreen, spokesman for Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, a Geneva-based nonprofit labor rights group. Employees were seeking to restore a 20 percent pay cut imposed by ATMI two years ago, she added.
Shesgreen said the company “needs to intimidate them and keep them on the edge of poverty to keep them in line. It’s morally disgusting.”
ATMI chief operating officer Paul Carr countered in a press release issued Monday that the company ended the lockout because Teamsters Local 673 officials announced they would not represent ATMI workers.
“ATMI notified all previously locked out employees that they were free to return to work on November 30, 2011. On November 30, 2011, majority of those employees returned to work,” Carr wrote. “On Dec. 1, 2011, I met with the employees and ATMI instituted the wage terms of its last offer to the Union — a wage increase and a year-end bonus, for all plant employees subject to the lockout.”
Bicchieri also announced that he received a cease-and-desist letter from a law firm representing ATMI that threatened legal action if the protests did not stop.
“The translation of a big letter like that is that our protests are working,” he said. “Therefore, we will be back.”