Local Firms Covertly Deliver Some Supplies
Caught in the middle of the Steelworkers strike, local companies are using unmarked cars and throwing supplies over the fence to keep Kaiser Aluminum Corp. factories running.
At the same time, breweries and aluminum fabricators are worried that the strike may disrupt delivery of Kaiser aluminum products.
“There’s been a significant disruption of metal flow out of there so far,” said John Scelfo, co-owner of Alutek Inc., a 45-employee Valley company that typically receives 500,000 pounds of Kaiser aluminum sheet and plate each day. “The trucks didn’t show up today. I think that’s pretty abrupt.”
Some of Kaiser’s 1,000 suppliers have made covert deliveries to Kaiser’s Trentwood rolling mill and Mead smelter to provide essential equipment to management employees who are trying to operate the factories. Careful not to offend the Steelworkers, they use unmarked cars at remote access points.
At Trentwood, vendors entered through the back gate until union pickets began blocking their path. At Mead, they slipped down a dirt road on the west side of the plant and met a guard at a seldom-used, locked gate.
“They’re still getting deliveries, but nobody had the key to the (Mead) vendor gate,” said Jaime Ethrington, warehouse manager of Allied Safety Inc. in Spokane. “So we just tossed it over the fence. This is safety equipment that’s needed regardless of who’s working the plant.”
The back-door deliveries apparently are safer than attempting to run the main gates, where pickets have blocked or delayed some trucks. In one incident Monday, Steelworkers struck a truck with picket signs - an image that was aired on national television.
But some suppliers are staying away completely.
“I don’t care, we’re not going there and that’s the bottom line,” said Al Mix, operations manager at Spokane Transfer & Storage Co., one of dozens of shippers that normally call on Kaiser.
One of Kaiser’s largest local suppliers - Imsamet of Idaho Inc. - declined to comment. The Hauser, Idaho, company employs about 80 people who recycle 450 million aluminum cans each day for Kaiser.
Sanya Ala, owner of Sayla-Tec, a Spokane supplier of industrial and safety equipment to Kaiser, said an extended strike could force him to lay off employees at his five-person company.
“This is no good for us,” he said. “It’s no good for anybody.”
Breweries also stand to lose. They’re worried that the strike may dry up the already low supply of aluminum can stock in the United States.
“The impact would be noticeable industrywide, not just at Coors,” said Dave Dunnewald, spokesman for Coors Brewing Co. in Golden, Colo., which uses 4 billion aluminum cans a year. “Supplies nationwide are tight and they have been for months. That’s something that concerns us. We’re watching the situation at Kaiser closely.”
But Kaiser spokeswoman Susan Ashe said deliveries of can stock should not be disrupted by the strike. She said product is moving out by railroad.
“We’re shipping to customers from inventory and expecting to ship from production as well,” Ashe said. “We’re making deliveries.”