Union workers for Custom Hoists, Inc., on strike

Union workers for Custom Hoists, Inc., on strike outside the Hayesville facility at approximately 7 a.m. on June 15.

HAYESVILLE -- Custom Hoists workers, represented by United Steelworkers Local 7008, went on strike outside the facility beginning Monday evening to demand higher wages, improved working conditions and lower insurance premiums.

Custom Hoists Inc. is a hydraulic cylinder manufacturing company in Ashland County, near Hillsdale Elementary School. The company also has a facility in Tianjin, China.

The strike began during the 6 p.m. work shift Monday, said Ray Bowman, who is a part of the union negotiating team. The union voted down the most recent Custom Hoists contract with 66 no votes and two yes votes, he said.

Custom Hoists president Mike Kuharik said the company is working with a lawyer to resolve the contract dispute. The company was in the process of drafting a response to the union as of Tuesday morning, Kuharik said.

“We made an offer. They turned it down. So we continue to work on a resolution,” Kuharik said.

Kuharik declined to comment on the specific demands of the workers on strike. 

The workers’ concerns about facility conditions include poor air quality and cleanliness, Bowman said. They are also frustrated with Custom Hoists' employment of temporary workers. 

“(Temporary workers) will be here for 60 days and they’re supposed to let them go, but they end up staying and taking full-time jobs,” Bowman said. 

Approximately 70 people are participating in the strike overall, Bowman said. Small groups of workers are taking turns, in four-hour shifts, sitting outside the facility with lawn chairs next to a sign that reads "Local 7008 on Strike." 

Bowman has worked for Custom Hoists since 1983, he said. He participated in an earlier strike in 2000 but said conditions have worsened in recent years. 

Many of those striking have worked at Custom Hoists for 30 to 40 years, according to those striking during the 6 a.m. shift Tuesday.

Mike Frymier, who struck during his 6 a.m. shift Tuesday, has worked for Custom Hoists for over 37 years, he said. 

Frymier’s main frustration is a lack of compensation for working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were deemed essential during the pandemic,” Frymier said, explaining the facility did not cease operations aside from two days when the company closed because of potential positive COVID-19 cases among the employees.

“Then, in return for that, we got literally nothing,” Frymier said. 

In addition to demanding higher wages, the workers expressed frustration with the company’s two-tier pay scale. 

Average pay is approximately $25/hour, Frymier said, but some employees are paid less for the same work.

Someone who has been with the company for a few months or a few years, for example, can make $6 less an hour for doing equal work under the tiered system, he said.

Bowman said he and others were not satisfied with the past three contracts, but the majority ultimately voted to approve those contracts. 

Now, he said, the union has collectively decided to demand better conditions and compensation.

Security was stationed in vehicles outside the Custom Hoists facility. The workers gathered, standing and sitting in lawn chairs they brought, within a perimeter sectioned off by caution tape in front of the facility. 

No timelines or deadlines for negotiations have been established.

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.