Local Union 717 Fights for What They Were Promised

Since 1816, Remington Arms has boasted with pride as the world’s leading designer and manufacturer of firearms, ammunition and products for hunting and shooting sports, as well as for military and law enforcement agencies. Founded by Eliphalet Remington in Ilion, New York, it is one of the oldest gun manufacturers in the United States. The impressive, red-brick plant of Remington dominates the village with over one million square feet of shop space. Anyone in the community will tell you that Remington is Ilion, and Ilion is Remington.

On July 17, 1996, workers at the massive plant in Herkimer County in Ilion, in a landslide vote, joined the United Mine Workers of America. “After the victory in 1996, I stated that it was the first step in taking this country back for working people, one worker at a time,” said President Roberts. “We united the best-known name in firearms, Remington, with the proudest union in this country, the United Mine Workers of America. We will stand side by side in solidarity and fight for our brothers and sisters in Ilion until they get what they earned and were promised under their collective bargaining agreement with Remington Arms.”

Remington Outdoor Company Files for Bankruptcy Protection

In June, 2007, Remington Arms was part of the Freedom Group, owned by Cerberus Capital Management, and in 2015, the Freedom Group was renamed as Remington Outdoor Company. In March, 2018, having accumulated over $950 million in debt, Remington Outdoor Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company exited bankruptcy just two months later, in May, 2018, with a restructuring plan that was agreed and supported by 97 percent of its creditors. The company filed for bankruptcy a second time on July 28, 2020, and the company’s assets were divided in parts and sold. The bankruptcy auction was held in September, 2020, and Remington was sold in parts to: Vista Outdoors, Inc., Roundhill Group, LLC, Sierra Bullets, LLC, Sturm, Ruger & Co., JJE Capital Holdings, LLC, Franklin Armory Holdings, Inc. and Sportsman’s Warehouse, Inc.

Just shy of three months after the second bankruptcy, 585 UMWA members from Local Union 717, who were working at the plant in Ilion under the new name of Remington Outdoor Company, were in utter shock when they received the devastating news that they were being terminated effective October 26, 2020. With just three days notice, they were faced with the knowledge that their health care, severance pay and accrued vacation would be cut off on October 31, 2020. “Devastated would be an understatement to describe what everyone was feeling that day,” said District 2 Representative Jamie Rudwall. “We’ve been doing everything we can to keep pressure focused on what our members are going through. We’ve had a lot of support from politicians, our community and the news media. Our members just want the company to do the right thing, and that is to hold up their end of the bargain and give our members what they were promised in the contract.”

President Roberts said the actions of the company were outrageous and a slap in the face to the employees who built the company into the best firearms manufacturer in the world. “If they think they can get away with this without a fight from the UMWA, they had better think again,” said Roberts. “Our members in Local Union 717 earned those benefits. We are going to do everything we can to ensure that they get them and continue working to get the plant reopened under new ownership as soon as possible.”

Local Union 717 has filed a series of grievances under the collective bargaining agreement and has wasted no time in calling attention to old Remington’s unfair labor actions to gain support from the community. “We are fighting on behalf of our members, and they are doing a great job of fighting for themselves,” said President Roberts. “We have got to get that plant reopened and our members back to work.”

Many of the laid-off workers and about 125 others within the community started gathering in the local parking lot of Franco’s, a local restaurant in Ilion, about a block away from the massive brick building where they were employed before the egregious acts of the company to terminate them and the benefits they had earned. The workers marched from Franco’s on multiple days, held press conferences, invited prominent speakers, including local, state and federal political and community leaders. Members of the community joined them at every event to support the terminated workers by carrying signs and walking the streets. At each event, the informational picketers would stage a “honk and wave” at corners throughout the village.

On November 12, 2020, President Roberts and several other staff from the International office and District 2 office in Uniontown, PA, traveled to Ilion to show their unwavering support and solidarity for the members of Local 717. “Our members, their families and this community have been on an emotional roller coaster over the last several months,” said Roberts. “First, the company filed for bankruptcy, and it looked like the Ilion plant would close for good. The union was successful in encouraging a potential buyer to keep jobs in Ilion, and that buyer was able to purchase the plant in the bankruptcy process. We are now working with the new company to get the plant reopened and start putting our members back to work.”

Remington Workers Gain Political Support

To gain further attention in support of their cause, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Congressman Brindisi (D-NY) sent letters on behalf of the Remington workers. Senator Schumer’s letter was sent to the CEO of Remington Outdoor Company, Inc., Mr. Ken D’Arcy, stating that the company’s actions were outrageous and an affront to the productive and loyal unionized men and women whose hard work was the foundation of the company’s success and were entitled to the hard-earned benefits that were won at the bargaining table. The letter strongly urged the company to immediately deliver what the workers were owed.

Congressman Bridisi’s (D-NY) letter was sent to John F. Ring, Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In his letter to the Chairman, Brindisi noted that Remington announced it would not pay severance and accrued vacation benefits to the workers, despite a contractual obligation with the United Mine Workers of America. Representative Brindisi called upon the NLRB to investigate the matter and determine whether the company engaged in unfair labor practices that required remediation and action. The Congressman’s letter concluded that the NLRB has a duty to investigate the case on behalf of the workers and that the betrayal of the rights their union fought for is unacceptable and cannot stand.

“While discussions are ongoing to reopen the plant under new owners, the old owners are taking money out of the pockets of the workers; food from their families,” stated President Roberts. “They are cutting off health care for thousands of people, some who are in the middle of cancer treatments, surgical recovery, physical therapy or other critical medical treatments. The workers made the old company successful, not the other way around. This is the thanks they get. Those workers and their families are not going to stand for it.”

A letter was sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo with signatures from Assembly members from the 101st, 117th, 118th, 119th and 121st Districts of New York and by State Senators from the 47th, 49th and 51st Districts. The letter stated that Remington Arms has been a major employer in Herkimer County for more than 200 years and generations of workers have built the heritage company into a world-renowned firearms manufacturer. The workforce is second to none and the well-paying jobs with benefits are a key to the regional economy.

Robert J. Smullen, Member of New York Assembly and a retired Colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps, sent a letter to the Honorable Eugene Scalia, the Trump administration’s Secretary of Labor. In his letter it stated that the termination of the workers at the plant, without a full payment of benefits due, is a travesty and will likely be compounded by the bankruptcy court process without vigorous intervention.

The Community Supports Terminated Workers at Remington

Local Union President Jeff Madison had mixed emotions regarding the layoffs. “I’ve been there 19 years,” said Madison. “They don’t want to abide by the contract. I feel like I was worth nothing, however, I am overwhelmed and encouraged by the support our community is bestowing toward the workers at the plant. It’s been a real struggle for a lot of the families since the layoffs. It’s never a good time to get news that you have been terminated. With the holiday season, it could not have come at a worse time, but our community has shown tremendous support for us.” During the Thanksgiving holiday, the AFL-CIO in Utica, NY, gave away turkeys to families in need. Several local businesses have donated money and gift cards to help with groceries, food and other essential needs. The local churches took up collections for gift cards to give to the families of the laid off workers.

Recording Secretary Jacquie Sweeney and her husband, Brad, were both working at the plant before being terminated. “It’s just difficult because you don’t know the if ’s and when’s,” said Jacquie. “It’s the fear of the unknown, and that’s how I think most of us feel in our community. I am very humbled by the support we have received from our community. I mean, everyone says Ilion is Remington and Remington is Ilion, and it’s so true.” The Central New York Labor Council and James R. Cook Labor Agency, along with 34 local union affiliates, provided 250 Thanksgiving turkeys and other food items to struggling members and their families. “The UMWA Relief Fund has been a blessing,” said Jacquie. “A local career center, Working Solutions, has been helping people with the Trade Act to get their certifications, forms and resumes. There are just so many people to thank for the support that they have shown to all of us.”

Jacquie’s husband, Brad, had been working at the plant for 18 years before being terminated. “My husband has been having a really hard time dealing with this,” said Jacquie. “We have three daughters to support, but we rely on our faith and courage from our friends, neighbors and the local businesses here in Ilion. This hasn’t just affected those of us who were terminated. It’s affected all the small, local businesses as well. They built their businesses around the Remington plant, and it’s just sad.”

Standing Together in Solidarity

International District 2 Vice President Chuck Knisell, At-Large International Vice President Donnie Samms and Region 1 Director Mike “Biggin” Payton were present with President Roberts in Ilion in November, standing in solidarity with Remington workers. Vice President Knisell spoke briefly to the crowd at the Franco’s parking lot that morning and with the UMW Journal afterwards. “Our members of Local 717 aren’t asking for a handout,” said International District 2 Vice President Chuck Knisell. “All our members are asking for is what they were promised under the collective bargaining agreement. Our members earned those benefits, and we will keep fighting until they get what they were promised.”

Remington Outdoor Company bankruptcy proceedings are not expected to conclude until early spring of 2022. “Our members have suffered enough over the last few months. They are just trying to support their families and put food on the table,” said International Secretary Treasurer Allen. “We have been trying to get these outrageous bankruptcy laws changed for several years, and we will not stop pressing forward until we have accomplished what every worker in our country is entitled to under the laws of a collective bargaining agreement. It’s unbelievable that the laws protect the corporations, but the workers who built the corporations, who are making millions, if not billions, are always last in line. We will continue fighting to get bankruptcy laws changed to protect our members and all workers, who at the very least, deserve what they were promised under a collective bargaining agreement.”

The Stop Looting American Pensions (SLAP) Act was introduced by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) in 2019. The SLAP Act would increase the priority of workers during bankruptcy proceedings, mandate that companies continue to make minimum funding contributions toward pension plans during bankruptcy proceedings, increase look back periods from two years to six years, prohibit sales of debtor’s assets within 60 days of filing bankruptcy and expand restrictions on executive pay during bankruptcy. “This is one critical part of what must be a larger reform of America’s bankruptcy laws,” said President Roberts. “We have learned far too well what can happen to workers who, through no fault of their own, are caught in a bankruptcy proceeding. We have been working with the new owners of the company to get the plant reopened, and we will continue to do so until these workers get what they were promised in their contract and until our members get back to what they really want, which is to get back to work and be able to support their families.”