Above photo: UAW workers rally outside Johnson Controls. Teresa Boeckel.
Dozens of union workers at the Johnson Controls facility in Hopewell Township have been on strike since late September, seeking an increase in pay and flexibility with using vacation time.
On Thursday afternoon, UAW Local 1872 workers gathered at tents along Renaissance Drive, not far from Interstate 83, for a rally. Arthur Westerfer, a test lab operator, shouted messages through a megaphone toward the massive building.
“If you do not give us a contract, you will not retain your operators, let alone your trainees,” he shouted. “… You are going to lose all of your experience.”
The 44 union employees work at the state-of-the-art testing facility for industrial-sized air conditioning chillers. Their job is to test the chillers to see how they perform under different conditions because they could be used in the United States or Saudi Arabia, said Greg Waltmire, shop chair for Johnson Controls Advanced Development and Engineering Center.
The company has contracts with the United States military. The Navy ships use them to keep the electronics cool, said David Richardson, shop chairman for UAW Local 1872 Grantley plant.
The strike, which started Sept. 28, comes as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, straining the economy. The union did not want to strike — pandemic or not — but the company forced its hand, said Darren Petty with the UAW international.
The employees were deemed essential during the pandemic, and the company’s stock has risen since March, he said.
“We’re the ones making their money while management is sitting home, safe in their homes,” Petty said.
The union says the parties are close on the money, but one of the biggest issues is vacation time. Union workers say the company has reduced the number of employees who can be off at one time, and some have been denied a vacation day.
The company issued a statement Thursday:
“Johnson Controls has provided the union with an offer that is competitive and provides an opportunity for continued success for all. We continue to stand ready to reach an agreement that is in the best interests of our employees, our company and our customers. In the meantime, the facility remains open and we remain committed to providing the products our customers have come to expect.”
Union employees say they just want to get back to work.
“Nobody likes to go on strike, but we need to have our voice heard,” said Michael Tawney, president of the Local 1872. “We need to have a fair contract for the essential work that we do, especially for … protecting our country, keeping the men and women that serve our country safe.”