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Triangle

Strikers can’t win for losing 

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. About 110 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers at Moncure Plywood LLC — nearly half the 225-person work force — walked off the job last July, complaining about longer work weeks and higher health-insurance costs. With unemployment in Chatham County only 5.6%, there wouldn’t be a lot of people clamoring to replace them.

But the strike that many workers expected to last only a few weeks dragged into the fall and winter, then the spring. As other factories shut down, they shed employees; Moncure Plywood hired them. Meanwhile, strikers were living on $150 a week from the union strike fund.

In April, the union and company agreed on a three-year contract that ended the strike but not the workers’ woes. Many might have lost their jobs for good. That’s because the recession hammered the company, which makes plywood for the struggling furniture industry. Moncure Plywood agreed to rehire only 25 strikers immediately. In early May, it was deciding whether to recall more.

Jeff Matuszak, sales and marketing manager at the plant, says the tanking economy forced the company to start laying off workers in October, cutting about 70 jobs before the end of the year. By the time the strike ended, it was down to 106 and was up to only 116 in early May. “The economic downturn was the main reason for the drop in labor. However, the factory was able to become more efficient, thereby also driving down its labor cost.”

Despite the uncertainty, Lewis Cameron, president of the union local, believes the strike was worth it. Cameron, who has been at the factory 35 years, says things went downhill after Greenwich, Conn.-based Atlas Holdings bought Moncure Plywood in 2005 and started making more demands. Employees struck because the company wanted them to work 60-hour weeks and pay three times as much for health coverage. The new contract cuts the workweek to 50 hours and lessens the insurance increase.

But he admits that the victories came with pain. “They’ve cut quite a few jobs. Some departments were cut in half. It’s been kind of rough on some people.” Cameron, who was demoted from mechanic to boiler operator, contends that even those that didn’t get their jobs back are better off. Now that the strike is over, they’re eligible for unemployment benefits, which is more than the strike pay. “We could ill afford to give that company all the concessions they wanted. If we had given them all those, the union would have been of no effect at all.”

 

When they scheduled a two-day conference for late April, the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and other organizers wanted to draw attention to the Triangle video-game industry — at least 30 companies employing more than 1,200. Among them are superstars such as Cary-based Epic Games Inc., which developed the Gears of War franchise. Some of the attention was not so welcome. The day before the event, Raleigh-based Atomic Games Inc. lost its publisher, Japan’s Konami Digital Entertainment Inc., due to the outcry over Six Days in Fallujah, based on the bloody 2004 battle in Iraq. Relatives of troops killed complain that the game makes light of the deaths. The event drew 730 — nearly double what organizers had expected. Among the speakers was Atomic CEO Peter Tamte, who says the company will continue work on the game and look for a new publisher.

 

RALEIGHAffiliated Computer Services plans to add 240 customer-service jobs to support Apple’s iPhone. The Dallas company employs about 3,100 in North Carolina, including 650 at three Triangle sites.

CARYEnergy Conversion Systems will shut down if it can’t find a buyer, idling 800 worldwide and 165 in the Triangle — nine at its headquarters here and the rest at a plant in Dunn. The company, which makes parts for electric motors, blamed the tight credit market.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Drug makers GlaxoSmithKline, based in London, and Pfizer, with headquarters in New York, will form a company to create AIDS drugs. The joint venture’s U.S. headquarters will be here, where GSK has its U.S. base. It will announce its name, as well as its number of employees, in the fourth quarter, when the $250 million deal is expected to close.

CARYABB has begun moving its North American headquarters from Norwalk, Conn., adding at least 100 jobs to the 500 that the Swiss energy conglomerate has here.

SANFORD — Peter Sodini, 67, will retire Sept. 30 as CEO and chairman of The Pantry. He has been chief executive of the convenience-store chain since 1996.

DURHAMBioMarck, a drug developer that sprang from research at N.C. State University, raised $6.3 million from investors to finish a clinical trial of a treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It plans to partner with a large pharmaceutical company to market the drug after it receives regulatory approval.

DURHAM — Albuquerque, N.M.-based Applied Research Associates bought Virtual Heroes for an undisclosed price. Both are video-game developers. Virtual Heroes specializes in simulations that train military personnel and emergency workers as well as educational games for students. Applied Research plans to operate it as a separate division and keep its 44 employees.

CARYDeere & Co. is merging two units, which could result in job losses here, where its commercial- and consumer-equipment division has been based and employs 420. The Moline, Ill.-based company is combining the local unit, which makes lawn mowers, with one that manufactures tractors and harvesters. Deere plans to trim 200 jobs companywide by the end of the third quarter but hasn’t said where.

DURHAM — The Smithsonian Institution selected The Freelon Group over five other architectural firms to design the $500 million National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum will be built on 5 acres of the National Mall, 800 feet from the Washington Monument. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2012 and take about three years.

CREEDMOOR — The Internal Revenue Service cut tax penalties on the town from $100,000 to $15,200. Faulty bookkeeping was blamed for problems that included failure to pay taxes withheld from employee paychecks.

CLAYTONCaterpillar let go an unspecified number of employees in its second round of layoffs since December. The Peoria, Ill.-based maker of construction equipment employed about 800 here before the initial layoffs.

SOUTHERN PINESIngersoll-Rand laid off 25, leaving it with about 125 local employees. The Piscataway, N.J.-based manufacturer of tools and industrial equipment blamed slow sales. It dismissed 29 in February.

RALEIGH — Television station WNCN wouldn’t specify the number but said it cut about 20% of its staff. Its owner, Richmond, Va.-based Media General, cited slow ad sales. WNCN let go six employees in December.

MORRISVILLEBright View Technologies raised $4 million to make and market its products, which use light-emitting diodes. Durham venture-capital firm Intersouth Partners led the round of funding.

FOUR OAKSFour Oaks Fincorp, holding company for Four Oaks Bank & Trust, agreed to buy Garner-based Nuestro Banco for $2.7 million. The deal is set to close in the third quarter. Nuestro lost $3.3 million last year.