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Worker lockout at Snappy

Close to 100 workers at Snappy in Detroit Lakes were idled Monday after the parent company locked out the workers.

The air distribution products company, now part of a nationwide company, got its start in Detroit Lakes back in 1955. Its parent company is now the country’s biggest supplier of pipe and fittings for HVAC companies, but now longtime employees are looking for a job.

Snappy’s in Detroit Lakes is a union shop, and the lockout occurred after labor and management failed to agree on a new contract on Friday.

At 6 a.m. Monday, the 96 workers were locked out of the building.

Health insurance costs and salaries are the sticking point. Union members at Snappy’s say they haven’t gotten a raise since 2007 or beyond, and some even took a pay cut in the contract approved three years ago.

The starting wage at Snappy Air Distribution is $12.50 per hour and the highest paid worker makes just over $17 per hour.

Long-time employees like Duane Moe of Audubon are looking for work. After working 32 years with Snappy, he says he feels used.

“Yeah, new owner,” Moe said, referring to Blue Wolf Investments LLC, the investment group that now owns the company. “Maybe I can find something to keep me busy.”

Many of the locked out workers have been coming to the Minnesota Workforce Center. It is here where they figure out how to file unemployment and find new jobs.

“The first thing is shock,” said Vicki Leaderbrand of Rural Minnesota CEP.  “People are going through shock, because they are not expecting to come to the office or to come to the workplace and suddenly not have a job.”

The locked out workers have been coming to Rural Minnesota CEP at the Workforce Center trying to get on their feet after the lockout hit them this week.

“A lot of times we just listen, validate their feelings and listen because they just need to express anger, frustration, emotions, fear,” said Kelley Nowell of Rural Minnesota CEP. “They say, you know, ‘I have two kids at home, I hope this doesn’t last long, I have to pay my bills.”

From job interview skills, resume writing and computer work, the center is working to keep the 100 locked out Snappy employees in the workforce.

“The first thing we do,” said Leaderbrand, “is say, ‘OK, where are you today and where do you need to be?’”

 These workers in Detroit Lakes are well aware of the locked out Crystal Sugar workers. After more than a year, that labor dispute still drags on.

Blue Wolf, the parent company of Snappy did not answer a request for an interview.

Meanwhile, the city and business leaders in Detroit Lakes are urging the locked out workers to take advantage of the services at the Minnesota Workforce Center.

The chamber says area businesses are aware of the lock out and will assist those workers any way they can. Workers are encouraged to look at classified ads and on-line publications about local job openings.

“We can sure connect them with someone who is looking who is getting more orders or manufacturing,” said Carrie Johnston, president of the Detroit Lakes Chamber.  “We would love to make those connections here in the community.”

About 70 percent of the workers who are locked out have 25 years or more of experience at the Detroit Lakes Snappy Plant.

Article written by Kevin Wallevand of the Forum News Service