Salem, N.J. — Workers at Mannington Mills will vote next week on whether they want union representation. While there have been at least a dozen previous attempts by unions to gain a foothold at the flooring manufacturer during its 97-year history — the last about 30 years ago — none have been successful.
About 300 employees, mostly those who work in the manufacturing side of the plant, will be eligible to vote on Feb. 16 on whether to have the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 94 as their bargaining representative with Mannington management.
Chip Gerrity, president and business manager for IBEW Local 94, said some workers at Mannington Mills first approached the union last summer seeking to organize. Gerrity said among the issues raised by workers included concerns about pensions, health insurance, wage parity, shift coverage and transfers within the plant.
“There have been any number of cuts along the way where the employees felt they were not treated as part of the family,” Gerrity said.
At a hearing with the National Labor Relations Board on Jan. 6, the Feb. 16 election date was set. The NLRB will conduct the election at plant.
Mannington Mills chairman of the board Keith Campbell said, like all industries, Mannington has to adjust to modern times, especially with the national economic downturn.
“In my estimation, we provide excellent pay and benefits, however this is a time of change,” Campbell said. “Our industry has been impacted severely by the downturn in housing in the residential market and we have had to make adjustments throughout all of our operations, not only here, but at all seven of our manufacturing plants and it has required change.
“Everyone in our industry has had to respond to adjusting their costs, increase productivity, and be diligent about quality, all of which we have done at Mannington.”
Mannington Mills was founded by the Campbell family in Salem City in 1915, later moving to its present site outside of the city.
Mannington now ranks as one of the largest flooring manufacturers in the world and Campbell is the fourth generation of his family to head the business. Campbell said since the company’s beginning “we have provided hundreds of jobs to local people and provided a good living for our employees and a secure future for their families.
“We feel that having a third party intervening in our business would be counter-productive and a negative influence among our workforce by not allowing direct contact with management, eliminating our open door policy with our employees and counter to our culture of a family-owned business with family values shared by all,” Campbell said.
He said while other major businesses have shut down, Mannington Mills has survived.
“Regionally, we’ve seen many local businesses closing,” Campbell said. “Just recently several large refineries in the area, which were union facilities, automobile plants and manufacturing plants have closed.
“Our management is dedicated to growing our business on a cost-effective platform to ensure employment for years to come.”
Gerrity said the drive to have a union represent Mannington workers also includes other issues. He said the company has stopped matching contributions to 401K retirement plans and he cited what he called rumors about other possible benefit changes.
“They are a profitable plant and workers are not reaping the part of the reward they think they should,” Gerrity said.
Campbell said Mannington management has always been open to workers’ concerns.
“We are activity listening to understand issues and come to a resolution on what those issues are,” Campbell said. “This has been the practice that has been in place for 97 years.”
Among benefits that Mannington workers receive are access to a company fitness center, a company-subsidized restaurant, golf driving range and performance bonuses.
Despite onerous state environmental regulations, high taxes, high energy costs and paying higher wages than in other areas of the country, the Campbell family has maintained the manufacturing plant’s location.
Mannington Mills and the Campbell family have contributed to numerous philanthropic efforts over the years, including backing the non-profit organization, Stand Up For Salem, which oversees the Salem Main Street Program, which is charged with revitalizing downtown Salem.
“We are extremely active in the community. We take great pride with being a good neighbor and a good company to work for,” Campbell said.
Along with the manufacturing plant and corporate headquarters, Mannington has six other manufacturing sites around the U.S. Of those, only one in California employs union workers. Another California plant had been unionized, but the union there was decertified.
The results of the vote are expected top be available Thursday night.