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DuPont plant in Chesterfield County ends union employee lockout

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DuPont Spruance plant in Chesterfield County

DuPont has operated its Spruance plant in Chesterfield County since 1929.

A more than two-month-long lockout of about 95 union-represented employees at DuPont Co.'s Spruance plant in Chesterfield County has ended.

The company and the union that represents the employees said Monday that a new five-year labor agreement has been approved, and the affected employees started returning to work today.

Nearly all of the union employees who were scheduled to work the day shift on Monday returned, said a spokesperson for Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont. All of the contractors that the company hired during the lockout are no longer on site, the spokesperson said.

A tentative agreement was reached Friday after both parties worked towards a deal through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Union members ratified the new contract Sunday, said Neil F. Gray, a regional representative in Virginia for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW.

"I think it is a fair settlement," Gray said. "In negotiations a lot of times, neither party gets everything they want. The members ratified the contract and told us what they needed us to know. It was a better offer than their [the company's] last, best and final offer. The members believed it was a good enough offer to pass."

The company locked out members of the IBEW at the Spruance plant on Oct. 11 without pay after a previous contract expired on Oct. 7 without an agreement.

The affected employees are control equipment technicians - skilled electrical and instrumentation professionals who perform maintenance on machines that manufacture three of the key products produced at the Spruance plant: Kevlar, Nomex and Tyvek.

The settlement includes a new five-year contract instead of a three-year contract that had previously been discussed, Gray said. The contract also includes a 17% pay increases for the employees over five years with pay increases ranging from 3% to 4% per year. Gray said the previous offer had been a cumulative pay increase of about 9.75% over three years.

The union members also will get a $5,000 contract-ratification bonus paid out over the first year.

The company will get additional management rights.

"The union allowed the expanded management's rights clause once we got the economics that we felt were acceptable to the membership," Gray said.

Union officers had previously expressed concerns that some of the employees would find other jobs and not return to work at the Spruance plant.

On Monday, however, Tom Short, president of the IBEW union at the Spruance plant, said he believes only a few of the employees who were locked out will not return.

"For the people that did not work elsewhere or were working elsewhere, it is going to take a few months to recoup what they have lost," Short said.

"Now, DuPont needs to start the hard work of fence mending," Gray said. "A lockout is a little bit different than a strike, With a strike maybe sometimes the onus is on the union to get the relationship back in order, but here there were a lot of people that were upset about being locked out especially over the holidays. DuPont needs to engage in the hard work of fence mending."

The labor disagreement had prompted concern from some members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, because the products made at the plant are considered vital to national interests.

DuPont, which has operated its Spruance plant since 1929, manufacture Kevlar, Nomex and Tyvek.

Kevlar is a high-strength but lightweight material used in products such as bullet-resistant vests and automotive components. Nomex is a heat-resistant material used in clothing worn by firefighters. Tyvek is a water and microbial-resistant material used in a variety of applications, including protective personal garments worn by first responders and medical professionals, packaging for medical products, and protective insulation for housing.

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