The assembly line inside the Bismarck Bobcat plant is where the new R Series Mini Excavator is put together. Each excavator moves from station to station in the assembly process.

A vote to unionize at the Bismarck Bobcat manufacturing facility failed late last week.

A number of workers had formed a campaign to join the United Steelworker Union, a union spokesperson said. Enough support was garnered to hold a National Labor Relations Board election, but the workers ultimately voted not to form a union at this time.

Larry Johnson, a union guide for USW Local 560 who works at Bobcat's Gwinner facility, said the vote failed by a ratio of 2:1.

"It was a good effort," he said. "That's just the way things go."

"The employees chose for the plant to remain union-free. We appreciate that the employees placed their trust in Bobcat Company and chose to continue working directly with us, and we look forward to continuing to work with our employees to make Bobcat the employer of choice in Bismarck," the company said in a statement.

The impetus behind the campaign was health and safety, as well as the desire to negotiate higher wages, according to Johnson, who said the workers who approached the union had some unsafe work practice concerns and wanted to be able to have a voice on the issue without fear of repercussion.

As far as wages, Johnson said Bismarck workers used to receive similar wages to Gwinner workers when the plant was previously unionized. He said the Bismarck workers weren't expecting to reach those same levels but would have liked to have seen an increase. Raises were awarded to workers while the unionization campaign was in progress.

The campaign focused on those plant workers who are directly employed by Bobcat, which Johnson estimates number about 400. He said there are also, by his estimate, about 200 temporary workers employed at the plant who weren't part of the campaign.

The last time the manufacturing plant was unionized was before it ended excavator production in 2009. At that time, Bobcat laid off 475 workers from the Bismarck plant and 275 manufacturing jobs were moved to the company's Gwinner plant.

Some engine kit assembly was being done at the facility. Then, manufacturing of compact attachments was brought to the plant in 2012. By early 2013, the company was seeing more demand than expected for its products and added more workers. Then, in 2016, it was announced compact excavators would again be built at the facility.

When fully staffed, the facility now employs more than 600 workers.

Workers must wait one year should they try to unionize again.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com


Business Reporter