WILLIAMSPORT, MD News (12/7/2022) – For over two and a half weeks, the UAW Local Union 171 has been on strike at the EPS-Sherwin Williams plant in Williamsport, MD. While the workers are potentially facing being unpaid during the holiday season, a larger issue looms in the distance – the potential for the strike to affect Sherwin Williams’ paint supply nationally.
According to local union 171 representative Bobby Keller, the strike is due to Sherwin Williams failure to provide adequate wages and benefits in an already understaffed plant with mandatory overtime. “Inflation is at 7% but pay increases are frozen at 2.1%” stated Keller in a phone interview. The workers are requesting Sherwin Williams provide wages and benefits comparable to another plant owned by Sherwin Williams in Illinois, which is similar to the plant in Williamsport.
While higher wages could potentially help attract new workers, the lack of workers at Sherwin Williams isn’t unique for this area according to Keller. Even though the Bureau of Labor and Statistics states that the Hagerstown-Martinsburg area currently has a 3.4% unemployment rate with 4,600 people currently unemployed, the plant simply doesn’t have enough workers.
“Every facility in the area is understaffed, nobody knows where workers went to,” said Keller. According to Keller, the lack of workers has resulted in mandatory overtime, which could become a safety issue if workers are working too many hours. However, “it’s not about the working conditions,” said Keller. The main issues at hand are wages, benefits, and not being able to spend time with families.
According to Travis Miller, a shop manager at the Sherwin Williams plant, a typical work schedule currently consists of working four twelve-hour days, an eight hour day on Friday, then coming back on Saturday as well. Miller stated these are excessive hours, without much time off.
Additional grievances include the treatment of workers during the heights of the COVID pandemic. During the pandemic workers were considered essential employees, and required to work with little to no additional compensation. “I feel like we’ve been crapped on for years, and it’s time to pay up,” stated Miller.
According to Keller, the last round of negotiations on December 7, 2022 “did not go well”, and no sign of relief or the end of the strike is in the future. Miller also stated that Sherwin Williams has made very slight movement towards a compromise, but no wage increase or benefits increase so far.
The plant itself creates the beginning process of paint – a base for all paints that get sent to other facilities owned by Sherwin Williams. Since other plants across the country rely on the Williamsport plant, it’s possible that the strike could begin to affect operations of other Sherwin Williams plants across the country.
When asked for comment, Julie S. Young the Vice President of Global Corporate Communications for Sherwin Williams issued the following statement: “The Sherwin-Williams Company has engaged in good faith bargaining with the United Auto Workers, Local 171, since negotiations started on November 3, 2022, and remains committed to reaching a satisfactory agreement for both parties. The Company continues to be available to meet regularly with representatives from the union.”
This is an ongoing story, and Radio Free Hub City will provide updates as they become available.
Article by RFHC Staff.