Strike at Nichols Aluminum

Members of Teamsters Local 371 picket Friday outside of the Nichols Aluminum plant on Rockingham Road in Davenport. The union went on strike at 4:30 p.m. after negotiations for a new contract reached an impasse. The last four-year contract expired Nov. 15. (Thomas Geyer/Quad-City Times)

Members of Teamsters Local 371 walked off their jobs at Nichols Aluminum and onto the picket line Friday as negotiations on a new contract reached an impasse.

"The union indicated they were going to go on strike at 4:30 p.m. today and they did so," Thomas Brackmann, president of the west Davenport manufacturer, said Friday night.

"We have been working on this since the beginning of October," Brackmann added. "We will endeavor to come to an agreeable settlement."

The contract between the company and the union expired Nov. 15.

Standing with union members outside the company's plant on Iowa 22, Local 371 president Howard Spoon said the biggest sticking point in the negotiations is health insurance.

"The company is saying that the employees cannot keep the quality of health insurance they currently enjoy," Spoon said. Nichols wants to replace the current health care insurance policy "with something that is not as good," he said.

"They want to ship a lot of the cost back onto the employees," he said.

Local 371 represents about 254 Nichols employees, Spoon said.

Several non-economic issues also need to be settled, he added.

Spoon said he hopes the union and company can get back to the negotiating table soon, maybe as early as Monday. There hasn't been a strike against Nichols since the 1960s, he added.

In addition to the plant on Iowa 22, Nichols has a facility on Rockingham Road where striking union members also carried signs on Friday.

In October, Nichols laid off 34 production workers indefinitely from Iowa 22 facility, and eliminated a production shift.

At that time, Brackmann said weakened demand for aluminum by the construction industry prompted the company to cut its work force. The plant remelts aluminum scrap to produce coiled sheet, which is sold to customers who fabricate it into final products.

Brackmann said two-thirds of the plant's volume is eventually turned into building materials - particularly for the housing industry. Its aluminum, which it sells bare or coated, is used to make products such as gutters, downspouts, window screen frames, soffits, fascia and trim sheet.

"All our customers are seeing a downturn in their business because the housing market is on its butt," Brackmann said at that time.

Nichols Aluminum has a total of 350 employees at its two Davenport operations. It is a division of Quanex Building Products.