Contract controversy at Christiansburg Hubbell Lighting plant

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Controversy is brewing at a Christiansburg plant as the company and union are at odds about new contract talks.

The union members said the Hubbell Lighting, Inc. have stopped trying to negotiate. The talks began back in February to set new contracts with employees.

In mid-March, Hubbell presented a contract to the union reps, which was voted down 75-14. One of the main reasons is it would freeze the employees' pensions and replace them with a 401k.

"You have folks who have been in the plant for decades. They don't have enough time to catch up with the 401k. It's great for the young folks coming in, but for us older folks, some of us will be losing almost $100 per month out of our pension," Union IUE-CWA Local 82160 President Penny Franklin said.

The other big issue is health insurance, and how much it would cost employees to have it.

"I have a family, they want to raise the health insurance premium from 25 to 30 percent, that would be my portion of it. I've calculated that costs me an extra $40 per week out of my paycheck, so right there that hits home," Clayton Merry, a six-year employee at Hubbell, said.

There is a 2.5 percent wage increase in the deal, but the union said that's too small. In fact, there are some employees who would lose money with how high the health insurance increase is. It's got some long-time employees considering quitting.

Debbie Lake has worked at Hubbell for 35 years.

"I've got four more years to work. If I could find another job somewhere else paying half of what this paid, I'd go in a heartbeat," Lake said.

When asked about these issues Wednesday, a company spokesperson emailed a statement reading, "It wouldn't be appropriate for us to comment publicly during negotiations."

But the union said there are no negotiations. That's what they want is for talks to start back up again.

Alan Wood, who has worked there for two years, said of the company not continuing negotiations, "They have no respect for us, they don't really care and it don't surprise me. It don't surprise none of us."

These employees also said they feel overworked, usually working six days and 50-60 hours per week. We asked if they were planning to strike because of these issues. They said they don't want to because they want to continue working, but that may have to happen.