The mood among the almost 500 workers at Rochester’s Crenlo Engineered Cabs remains “tense” as management has gone silent after threatening to close, if the union did not accept dramatic concessions on the labor contract.
UAW Local 2125, which represents the workers at the 69-year-old manufacturing firm, says this move to take away promised raises and other things is not coming from a company that is struggling to survive during hard times. The union believes this is being driven only by greed.
On Oct. 2, Crenlo sent a letter to all of its employees to detail the contract concessions that “it feels are necessary to remain in Rochester.” A letter to the Local 2125 union went further by adding, “While no decisions have been finalized, alternatives being discussed include vacating our facilities in Rochester. Among other things, we have been present with an opportunity to sell Plant #2.”
The contract changes being requested include significantly cutting raises guaranteed in the four-year labor contract that the company signed with Local 2125 in December. The concessions also included changes to the dental and medical plans, overtime calculations, holiday-pay eligibility and other issues.
Local 2125 President and Crenlo machine operator Troy Arnold met with the management of Crenlo and told them that the union membership needs to vote on the unusual situation of renegotiating the contract. Management of the firm declined to help the union rent space for a vote or to give employees time off to learn about the proposal and vote.
On Monday, Arnold sent a letter to Crenlo employees to update them on the situation and try to answer questions.
“If your question is ‘why are they putting this ultimatum to us?,’ the answer is simple, pure greed. Simply put, they believe they are entitled to that money and we are not,” he wrote. “They are not making any claim of hardship. They just want more money.”
Crenlo management did not respond to a request for a comment on the situation.
Welder Rene Cruz, who has worked at Crenlo for three years, said the lack of communication is making the workplace very tense.
“The way they are doing things is very unprofessional … They said they were going to close, and now they are not saying anything,” he said. “We are willing to work with them if they put cards on the table, but then we would have to vote … I feel like they want to leave Rochester and they want to make it look like we (the workers) are guilty of it.”
Adding to the uncertainty is that just as the union signed the contract in December, a California-based private equity firm called Angeles Equity took over as the new owner and fired all of the management involved with negotiating the December contract.
The current Crenlo leaders, including the CEO, Matthew Karmel, and the chief financial officer, John Lenga, have all stepped into the jobs within the past few months.
Terris Schmitz, who has worked at Crenlo for three years, said he understands that times are tough, but an agreement was made.
“We agreed to a contract. They should honor the contract and renegotiate it when it ends (in 2024),” he said. “I personally don’t want to be without a job, but I definitely don’t want to take a pay cut and then have my insurance raised on top of that. That’s just too much.”
The situation caught the attention of Minnesota’s U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn in the waning days of the election. Just before winning re-election, the Republican wrote a letter to Department of Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia asking for an investigation of the company’s actions.
"The conduct of Angeles Equity Partners is, at the very best, unreasonable and indecent, and quite possibly illegal," Hagedorn wrote.
Meanwhile, the workers worry that any or all of the three Rochester facilities that cabs for heavy equipment and metal boxes for the electronics and solar energy markets could close at any time.
That’s a question that Local 2125’s Arnold tried to address in his letter on Monday.
“Local management will not tell us anything about when or which lines are moving and when Crenlo will close permanently,” he wrote. “However, they also tell us outside management (Angeles Equity Partners) will not tell them anything either, so they claim they don’t know.”