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AHF employees back on the job

The Inter-Mountain photo by Haley Gordon Employees leave the AHF Products hardwood flooring plant in Beverly Monday afternoon. AHF’s union workers are back on the job and once again working without a contract, after going on strike March 13.

BEVERLY — Union employees of AHF Products hardwood flooring plant in Beverly are back at work, although no new contract has yet been reached.

The plant’s union workers went on strike on March 13 after 93% of them voted against AHF’s proposed contract renewal on Feb. 23. The Beverly plant employs approximately 500 local residents.

The workers also filed a grievance over a health and safety issue on March 13. However, the workers returned to the job two days later, on Sunday, March 15, company officials said.

The employees working in what’s referred to as the plant’s “dry shed” had complained to AHF officials and supervisors that their tennant scrubber sweeper machine was broken and was unable to remove the dirt, crushed limestone and “bird excrement” from the workplace, George Scott, the plant’s chief steward and union employee, previously told The Inter-Mountain.

AHF had the malfunctioning machine replaced on the same day the strike began, March 13, Curtis Wilkerson of Orion Strategies, the public relations firm working with AHF, told The Inter-Mountain Monday.

“They went on strike for a shift basically because it was the last shift of that week,” Wilkerson said Monday. “They claimed the reason they went on strike wasn’t the present labor negotiations, they said it was a safety issue… It was their choice to call a work stoppage on a safety issue and then immediately say that they were going back to work.”

AHF and Teamsters Local 175 have agreed to meet again at the negotiating table on March 30-31, company officials said.

Several union officials called by The Inter-Mountain Monday to comment for this article did not respond to messages.

Extra safety precautions have been taken for the returning employees, in line with state and federal suggestions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, AHF officials said.

“We’ve taken our cleaning crews and broken them up so they’re around the clock and they’re disinfecting our break rooms after every lunch and break,” Blaine Emery, plant manager at AHF, told The Inter-Mountain Monday.

“We’ve also told everybody that if they need to stay home because they’re symptomatic or their parents or child are symptomatic, then they’re obviously excused from work for that,” said Emery. “We don’t want anybody coming to work sick and we’ve asked them to stay home and just let us know.”

Additionally, plant employees have been working to replace the doorknobs in the building with no-touch options to reduce the spread of germs, officials said. AHF has also eliminated the practice of sharing personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and goggles.

“Due to the number of vacancies we have because we’ve slowed down hiring right now, and just people who have stayed home for various reasons, we’re a little bit short-staffed,” Emery said Monday. “Every employer is facing the challenge right now of balancing keeping everyone as safe as possible while allowing people to still have a paycheck.”

He added the plant has seen a decline in demand for the product recently, “just like everybody right now,” due to the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the economy.

Emery was not available for comment following Gov. Jim Justice’s announcement Monday afternoon that all non-essential businesses must close, effective Tuesday at 8 p.m.

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