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No strike resolution on horizon at Coupled Products

Correction

Because of a reporting error, some information in this story about the Coupled Products sale and strike was incorrect. Jonathan Drew and Tina Johnson, who are now co-owners, are still president and operations director, respectively. Full details of the acquisition agreement were not disclosed. Johnson on Thursday also said the company, which previously made changes to remain competitive, allowed union leaders to see its books. Coupled Products makes hose and tube assemblies and metal fittings, which suppliers use for multiple functions.

Correction

A headline with a previous version of this online story should not have implied that the new owners of Coupled Products were not optimistic about the future of the company. The headline should have specified the story was about the future of the 1 1/2-year strike at the company.

The ownership has changed -- but 21 strikers remain – at a Columbia City manufacturer.

Twenty-nine members of United Auto Workers Local 2049 started picketing Coupled Products LLC in June 2011, alleging unfair labor practices after contract negotiations broke down. Some of those original strikers have since taken other jobs.

The union objected to a company-imposed 33 percent pay cut and loss of numerous benefits, including sick pay, bereavement leave and some vacation.

Coupled Products officials said the company's dire financial situation forced them to make cuts to keep the operation solvent. But when union leaders asked the company to open its books, officials declined.

An administrative law judge ruled in June 2012 that Coupled Products didn't have to provide access to financial records. The workers filed an appeal.

"We are disagreeing with the (judge's) interpretation of the law," said Jeff Macey, an Indianapolis-based attorney who represents the strikers.

Macey, an associate with Macey, Swanson and Allman, doesn't know when a decision will be reached.

Local 2049 is asking the National Labor Relations Board to send the parties back to the bargaining table. The strikers – and the 17 who crossed the picket line to return to work for less pay – could potentially receive back pay, too, Macey said.

The company was acquired Dec. 31 by TJD Industries, a partnership between Jonathan Drew and Tina Johnson. The co-owners were formerly president and operations director, respectively, of Coupled Products.

Johnson, one of the new co-owners, didn't offer any reason to think the strike – now entering its 19th month – will be resolved soon. The company has 90 to 100 employees.

"My position with the union hasn't changed," she said Wednesday. "I've always tried to work the strike issue out with the union. We just haven't reached a resolution on that."

Johnson declined to reveal details of the sales agreement for the Columbia City factory, Coupled Products' only location. The manufacturer makes metal fittings that connect hose and tube assemblies for the automotive, construction, agriculture and appliance industries.

The workers, who are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits, receive $200 a week in strike pay and full insurance benefits from the UAW. Joyce Lane, bargaining chairwoman for UAW Local 2049, said they're better off financially than if they were in the factory working for reduced wages and benefits.

sslater@jg.net

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