THREE FORKS, Mont. — Thirty-three people are out of a job in Three Forks. They were picketing Friday afternoon in front of the talc mill where they used to be employed. They say the mill's owners, the French multinational company Imerys locked them out after contract negotiations failed.
The workers told NBC Montana they plan to picket outside 24/7 for the foreseeable future.
"It just makes me sick to my stomach," said union leader Randy Tocci, who has been with the company for 38 years.
Tocci says things started to change once Imerys bought the company seven years ago.
According to Tocci, the workers weren't asking for money -- just to keep benefits they already had, like retirees' health insurance, seniority and the existing overtime work rules.
"We don't want a bad contract, and this is a bad contract," said Tocci.
"If they're not willing to work with us what are we supposed to do? We want to maintain what we got and the benefits they want to take away end up being several hundred thousand dollars to every employee out there over the lifespan of their career," he added.
Tocci says as contract negotiations went on it became evident it could come down to this.
Union workers report they were sent a letter Thursday at 7 p.m. informing them of the lockout, and those who were still on their shifts were escorted off the property.
Dennis Delaittre, a longtime repairman at the talc mill, says they’re not striking -- they were essentially kicked out of their jobs.
Delaittre lost his son, State Trooper David Delaittre, to a shooter not long ago, and now he wonders what he'll do next.
"You know for me, I'm an old, wore-out person, and it's going to be hard to find another job," he said.
Delaittre says the other families are also wondering.
"They're not just hurting us the employees, they're hurting this town and several families," he said.
Imerys could not be reached for comment.
Update: a GoFundMe account has been set up for the workers.