Jeffrey Briggs has worked for 18 years at the talc mill in Three Forks, Montana, now owned by Imerys. Things were going well for the father of five and his wife Stacy. Their oldest daughter and son-in-law, Carly and Ferguson Gammon, had recently moved in with them from Kansas City, Kansas, and were expecting their first baby. Ferguson had gotten a job at the talc mill with Jeffrey. And with the Briggs’ oldest son in college, another son enjoying his senior year of high school, and two daughters busy with activities, things were on balance for the Briggs family.
Then Imerys locked out Jeffrey and Ferguson.
“I never thought we would get locked out,” Jeffrey says. “I figured we’d keep working under our old contract until they could negotiate, meet somewhere in the middle. So when they escorted everybody out of the plant, I figured we’d be back to work in just a couple days.”
That was over 50 days ago.
“I have never experienced anything like this before in any place that I’ve worked. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine anything would happen like this.”
Jeffrey says the first time he met the current Imerys plant manager a little over a year ago, the new manager showed photos of his family.
“I thought, well, this is going to be okay,” Jeffrey says. “I thought he was a family man coming into our family as a union and a workforce. Now, with us being locked out, I have a totally different image of him and of the company. They’re not concerned about the employees and their families.”
Jeffrey’s wife Stacy is especially worried about her daughter and son-in-law.
“We’re excited about our first grandchild, but it’s scary not having insurance we had planned on,” she says. “The company pulls it out from under us right before they deliver, so that’s especially scary. And the company is aware of the situation. It’s not like they didn’t know that she was expecting a baby.”
To make ends meet for the family of eight — soon to be nine — all living in one household, Jeffrey is taking on side jobs and selling extra hay he put up over the summer.
“The uncertainty is the hardest thing about this lockout,” Stacy says.
“The hardest thing for me, along with the uncertainty,” says Jeff, “is that the company’s not willing to even meet us in the middle. We go to negotiations, and there’s no negotiating. It’s their way, or no way.
“We’ve worked hard to make the company profitable and to take care of their customers.
“If I could say one thing to Imerys it would be this: Come back to the bargaining table and do it in good faith. The union doesn’t expect to get everything, but we want to meet in the middle somewhere so that both parties are happy.
“I hope they’ll realize we’re hard working people. We’re not lazy. We go to work and put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. We try to get along with our supervisors, and we always have.”