Machinists strike Tuftco but production continues

Union disputes contract over seniority as carpet industry sees rebound

Billy Heard, of the Local 56 of the International Association of Machinist union, waves at a car Friday, October 9, 2015 near the Tuftco building on Holtzclaw Avenue.

For the first time in more than two decades, union employees at Tuftco Inc. in Chattanooga are striking the carpet equipment maker.

About two dozen of the 55 hourly employees at Tuftco's main factory on Holtzclaw Avenue walked off their jobs this week after their previous three-year labor agreement expired and the company and union were unable to negotiate a new contract.

"We made a lot of contract concessions during the downturn, and we have some real concerns about the company refusing to recognize the seniority of the workers here," said John Sisson, a 64-year-old water jet operator at Tuftco who is a committee member for Local 56 of the International Association of Machinists union. "If we lose that right, then we will have people moved up just on preference rather than ability."