After three weeks on strike, about 190 employees at a northern Indiana packaging manufacturer are considering a new contract this week.
A federal mediator recommended a new contract to end the strike between union workers and their employer, MonoSol, after hours of negotiation on Sunday, the company and a union official told IPB News.
MonoSol, a subsidiary of Japan-based Kuraray Co., makes water-soluble packaging used for products like Tide Pods.
The employees, represented by Teamsters Local 135, said they are on strike over a contract provision that allows the company to force them to work overtime at the LaPorte plant. The union alleges that often results in work weeks of more than 60 hours.
The mediator-recommended contract would guarantee no forced overtime for at least two years, a MonoSol spokesperson said in an email. The spokesperson said the company agreed to that and other “concessions” including an increased signing bonus and additional wages for employees in their fourth year.
The union workers are set to vote on the contract Friday, the spokesperson said. Union representatives did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
In past statements, MonoSol has pushed back on allegations of forced overtime. The company claims “97 percent of the time, workers volunteer for the extra hours” and that most work an average of “53.84 hours during each eight-day personal work schedule.”
In an email, the company spokesperson argued MonoSol's willingness to guarantee no mandatory overtime in the new proposed contract is evidence that those allegations were untrue.
"We also want to continue our brainstorming discussions with employees to find a collaborative long-term solution to balance issues of attendance and its impact on overtime," the spokesperson wrote.
But the union has said disagreement about the contract provision allowing forced overtime is what led to the strike.
READ MORE: Striking workers allege forced overtime, discrimination at northern Indiana manufacturing plant
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Two days before this latest negotiation session, Teamsters officials announced they filed a discrimination charge against Monosol with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In a past interview and press release about the charge, Teamsters officials said the company mistreats its Black and female workers. They allege supervisors use “the n-word” and other racial slurs, and discipline “Black workers more harshly than non-Black workers.”
"Having a feeling at your job that you're not equal to others because of your race is beyond disgusting," said Lamont Hodges, a 13-year caster mixer at MonoSol, in a press release.
The release also points to an internal, informal poll of 92 of the plant’s union workers, which leaders say show many feel complaints about discrimination “fall on deaf ears with management” and the company fails “to properly address sexual harassment in the workplace.”
In a written statement, a MonoSol spokesperson said the allegations were made up to exert outside pressure on negotiations.
“While we strongly disagree with the measures taken by the union,” the spokesperson wrote, “we are going to be reserved in our remarks out of respect for the remediation process and the hard work of the parties involved in hopes that this will all soon be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved.”
In a past statement, the company called these allegations “race-baiting” and said Local 135 president-elect Dustin Roach created them “out of thin air.”
It’s unclear what will happen to the EEOC charge if the union’s members agree to end the strike and take the new contract.
If the EEOC investigates the charge and finds evidence investigators believe shows illegal discrimination, the commission typically responds by trying to resolve the issue in private mediation.
If they fail to reach an agreement, the commission will sometimes take the matter to court as it has in recent lawsuits against Keystone RV in Elkhart and Indianapolis-based Lilly USA.
Contact reporter Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @arayesIPB.