Fairbanks Scales workers go on strike in St. Johnsbury

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ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (WCAX) About 65 workers at Fairbanks Scales walked off the job in St. Johnsbury Wednesday.

The union members started picketing at about 7 a.m., saying they want better wages and affordable health insurance. They say management walked away from the table and that both sides are far apart on those key issues. Now they're trying to drum up community support for their strike.

"The company has constantly disrespected the union as a whole. They just absolutely ignore everything we stand for and we want respect," said Pauline Scott, the president of UE Local 234.

In a statement this afternoon Fairbanks Scales officials said they are disappointed they couldn't reach an agreement with the union and remain committed to negotiating. The company also said it believes its offers have been fair and reasonable.

Fairbanks Scales makes all kinds of commercial scales, from big ones that weigh trucks to small ones used in a medical setting. But its impact on the town of St. Johnsbury goes over a century beyond that.

"It actually put St. Johnsbury on the map if you look at the time frame," said Peggy Pearl with the St. Johnsbury Heritage and History Center. She says the history of the Fairbanks family is deeply in St. Johnsbury. "They set up shop down on the Sleepers River and that shop was not Fairbanks Scales, it was making stoves. It was making cast iron plows, it was making wagons."

Pearl says farmers who were growing hemp in the area had a hard time weighing it. Thaddeus Fairbanks was there with a solution -- a platform scale. "I would never go out on that limb and say Thaddeus Fairbanks was the first platform scale, but it was the first that was simple and accurate and that made all the difference," she said.

That was in the 1830's, and by the end of the 1800's, the company had employed about 1,000 people at their shops across the town. "They could've put their money anywhere, but they chose to put a lot of back into the town," Pearl said.

Along with their scale making, the family founded landmarks such as the Athenaeum, The Fairbanks museum, and St. Johnsbury Academy.

Reporter Dom Amato: You could say they contributed a good amount to this area?

Peggy Pearl: Oh yes. And it didn't just stop with those buildings that I'm talking about, they had their hands in all kinds of things.

Pearl says St. J wouldn't be the town it is without the help of the Fairbanks family.