About 200 Viskase Workers Strike

(WBIR - LOUDON COUNTY) About 200 Viskase workers in Loudon County went on strike Wednesday after their union and the East Tennessee company failed to reach an agreement during contract negotiations.

But, officials with the company, which makes materials used to package meats, like hot dogs and sausages, said they don’t expect to stop production.

At issue is a five-year contract that both sides have been trying to hammer together for the past two months. The contract would affect 188 hourly employees.

Union workers said the company wants to pay them less for premium hours, time worked on Sundays and holidays. And the employees, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said they’re prepared to picket until they have a better offer in hand.

“This is a successful and profitable company,” said District 711 Directing Business Representative Rickey Wallace in a released statement. “They are demanding cuts that would add significant costs to our members’ family budgets.”

Company officials said they crafted a salary and benefits package that would be “among the highest in the area.” It would include substantial cash incentive payments and yearly wage increases, as well as “a much improved work schedule,” and health care benefits at “significantly reduced premium and out-of-pocket costs.”

"Finance-wise, insurance-wise, it's just too much of a hardship for our whole family," said Shawn Thompson, a 24-year employee of Viskase.

The company, in a news release, said it did propose “some essential cost reductions,” like eliminating inequitable payments to some workers. The move, officials said, was tied to the “reduced demand, excess capacity, high U.S. labor costs compared to our competitors, and severe economic impacts due to the strength of the U.S dollar.”

The company’s statement said officials brought in workers from other plants to fill the work gap until the negotiations are resolved.