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Annual festival celebrates cultures from around the world

HUNTINGTON — From love songs to games, food and dance, people were able to experience a variety of cultures during the International Festival at Marshall University on Saturday.

As the oldest and longest running international festival in West Virginia, this year’s event included food, music, dance and displays representing countries and cultures from around the world. The festival, which was free and open to the public, marked its 58th year by featuring international restaurants from around the Tri-State that offered tastings of their signature menu items.

The festival was sponsored by Marshall Housing & Residence Life, The Landing at Marshall University, Insurance for Students, Chipotle, Artina, Yeager Airport and BB&T.

Strike at Special Metals enters second month

HUNTINGTON — There appears to be no settlement in sight as the strike by union workers against Special Metals in Huntington enters its second month.

“This is day 36,” United Steelworkers Local 40 President Chad Thompson said Friday, while attending the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 event with workers in the service and maintenance units at the hospital who began their strike Wednesday.

About 450 union workers began the strike at Special Metals on Oct. 1 after the union and company failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the previous three-year agreement that expired Sept. 30. On Friday, the union workers continued to picket outside the plant on Riverside Drive.

Special Metals is the largest nickel alloy plant in the world. The facility is owned by Berkshire Hathaway and its billionaire CEO Warren Buffett and operated by subsidiary Precision Castparts (PCC).

Thompson said the two sides have negotiated only once since the strike started.

“We’re not close at all,” Thompson said. “We are actually in a worse place than we were over a month ago when we walked out.”

Thompson said several issues are being negotiated.

“We’re talking about health care, wages, seniority and some safety issues in the plant,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the company has a proposal regarding how managers move workers around from job to job and the length of time some have been on particular jobs.

“It’s spelled out in the contract we had already how we do that, but they are wanting to change that,” he said. “We want to make sure that the people are training on the job, that are programmed properly, so they don’t get (themself) hurt or killed or somebody else hurt or killed.”

Thompson said they also don’t want untrained workers messing up the company’s product.

The facility produces alloys critical to military jet engines and commercial aircraft, deep sea oil rigs and other equipment for operation in high-temperature and -pressure environments.

Thompson said the stress level for workers is pretty high.

“When you’re out in the cold by a fire barrel every day or every other day wondering when you’re going to go back to work, if you’re going back to work, it can be pretty stressful,” he said.

The company issued a statement on the Monday after the strike began.

“We believe we proposed a fair offer prior to the union discontinuing negotiations. Once the existing collective bargaining agreement expired, the union decided to strike. We are executing our contingency plans to continue to operate our plant,” David Dugan, director of corporate communications at Oregon-based Precision Castparts, Special Metals’ parent company, said in the prepared statement. “We intend to continue to negotiate with the union in good faith so that we can reach a fair agreement that will place us on a path to a better future in Huntington.”

The company did speak out when it was reported that law enforcement was called to the picket lines at least half a dozen times since the strike began. No arrests were made and Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle called the incidents minor, but the company said it would call police if striking workers violated the law.

The sheriff said at the time there were some “minor” traffic issues reported regarding trucks being blocked by striking workers while trying to enter the plant.

Special Metals said then its contingency plans are in place to keep the plant operating while striking union workers picket outside.

“The safety of our employees, contractors and suppliers remains our top priority as we continue to operate our facility,” Dugan said in an email. “As the union conducts its economic strike, we will continue to report improper or illegal conduct on Special Metals’ property.”

Thompson said an injunction was issued and there have been no other incidents reported.

“These were very minor issues, and we have all of that straightened out now,” he said.

On Friday evening, Dugan issued a new statement.

“Special Metals continues to negotiate with the union in good faith so that we can reach a fair agreement. Both parties met Wednesday, November 3, and our next in-person negotiations are scheduled in December. At the meeting this week, Special Metals offered to continue the negotiation process by email in the interim and is awaiting response from the union. Meanwhile, we intend to continue operating our facility,” he said in an email.

Thompson said the support the striking workers are receiving from the community is greatly appreciated.

“People, businesses and other local unions have really come out in full support of us,” he said. “They have brought food and products to our union hall to help our workers get through this difficult time. They have also made monetary donations to the union’s strike and defense fund. We couldn’t ask for anything better from our community than we have received here.”

Thompson said the bottom line is that union workers want a fair contract.

“This is my fourth contract negotiation with the company, and we just want this contract to be in the same realm with all the other contracts we have signed with the company,” he said. “We don’t want to spend four times more on insurance premiums than we do right now. When you start raising premiums three times, four times what they’re paying right now … you can’t add $1,000 a month to a family and expect people to be OK with that. They want to take workers’ vacations and cut their retiree life insurance and do away with some of the provisions and the way people get assigned. It’s just too much all at once.”

Huntington’s new police chief talks vision for department

HUNTINGTON — Newly appointed Huntington Police Chief Karl Colder knows as an outsider he has an uphill battle ahead of him within a tight-knit community of fewer than 50,000 residents.

But the New York City native brings to the position more than three decades of federal Drug Enforcement Administration and law enforcement experience, as well as consulting and vocational school teaching experience.

Through his guidance he hopes he can help the Huntington Police Department build stronger relationships with its fellow law enforcement officers and the Huntington community, as well as build on the well-being of officers as he works to fill empty positions.

During his tenure, Colder hopes he can change the perception of Huntington from the opioid capital of the world to the “city of solutions.” To do that, however, he will have to earn the trust of the community and his officers to create better morale on all fronts.

Education and training

Colder holds a bachelor’s degree in social relations, criminal justice and political science from Cheyney State College (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania) and a master’s degree in human resources development and training from Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

The self-proclaimed nomad retired from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration with 32 years of experience and was the special agent in charge for the DEA’s Washington, D.C., Field Division Office from February 2013 to May 2018, during which time he directed all DEA operations throughout Maryland, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

From New York to Jacksonville, Florida, to islands throughout the Atlantic Ocean, his work with the DEA and his life made him a well-traveled man after he held several positions along the East Coast, as well as in the Caribbean and other tropical places, in an effort to curb illegal drug trade, from methamphetamines to cocaine and heroin.

He watched the opioid crisis build as drug firms poured millions of pain pills into Appalachia while the DEA had no leadership in West Virginia. He helped place a special agent in charge of the state to help fight that, while telling then-Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre the DEA was a carousel, seemingly calling out those who would go and work for the drug firms they had investigated.

After retiring from the DEA, he served as president of Colder Allied Consulting LLC, providing consulting for program performance and information management support to private companies. Colder also is a teacher/instructor of the Monroe Advanced Technical Academy’s Administration of Justice sequence for Loudoun County, Virginia, Public Schools, where he prepares students for entry-level employment in the law enforcement and criminal justice world, as well as other fields.

Familiar landscape

Colder takes over for Ray Cornwell, who held the position before retiring in early July. Before that, current city manager Hank Dial stepped into the position after the death of Joe Ciccarelli, whose career as an FBI agent reflects Colder’s.

Colder will oversee a department with a $15.4 million budget, which includes room for 108 sworn officers and nine civilian staff. He will be paid an annual salary of $95,610.

He hopes to build trust among the officers and build up the confidence of the men and women in the department.

While he was not part of the Huntington community as it grew to be known as the opioid capital of the United States, Colder’s three decades of experience with the DEA gives him the knowledge and know-how of how to weigh policing against getting help for people in need.

He has no ties to Huntington, but has been a face within the community for years, working alongside HPD in drug investigations, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said.

“Given all that we have been through these years, he is the perfect person for this position because, as you know, we endeavor to seek standards that the rest of the nation would attempt to follow. We have become known as a ‘city of solutions’ because we’re so aggressive, but we have to lift our game.”

Building relationships

Colder said he hopes under his tenure he will be able to change the world’s perception of the city.

“You have those who commit crimes, those who violate the law, but … the majority of the people are good people and they just want to be safe,” he said.

The city has shifted more toward community policing in recent years, a way to let officers get to know the areas they patrol better, and Colder hopes to build on that.

Any gain made by the city to combat the opioid crisis was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Colder is ready to build it back. He said to do that, there has to be more collaboration from counterparts on the federal, state and local levels. He said his forte is bringing agencies and groups together, stating he was a huge proponent of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force initiative — a grant program administered by the Office of National Drug Control Policy that provides assistance to all levels of law enforcement agencies to help reduce drug abuse and drug trafficking.

He said even as a federal agent, he saw it was not possible to arrest the way out of the problem. Faith-based partnerships are important, he said.

Colder said he was part of the West Virginia Council of Churches, which he said has a great initiative toward substance use disorder, and he believes that if the stigma is removed from substance use disorder, it would be great.

“There are times when arrests have to be made. But then there’s time to have that compassion and believe that you can help somebody out early,” he said.

Colder said he wants to build on the morale of officers, who he said have great potential leadership qualities.

“We have a responsibility to the public. We have a responsibility to our families. We have a responsibility to our profession,” he said.

He said when problems in policing arrive, a lot of it is due to stressors of the job. One of those could be officers being overworked. He wants officers to focus on their mental health to make the department better as a whole and for the community.

Colder said the department has to do a better job at recruiting to create more flexibility for the officers to be able to do innovative things, such as walking or bike patrols.

“If you’re happy on the job, you’re going to be happy when you do the job,” he said. “So that’s most important: Loving your job, wanting to come to work every day. Because that’s when you’re gonna make a difference.”

Police officers have the same problems as everyone else — stress, anxiety, health issues — and they should take care of themselves as anyone else would, he said.

“I’m going to enjoy this”

Colder said he and his wife live through their children — two sons and a daughter — who have always been athletic. Their daughter was a cheerleader. Their oldest graduated two weeks ago from the FBI academy and will be assigned to the Philadelphia office, where Colder started his career. Their middle child is a running backs coach for the football team at Davidson College in North Carolina.

“I’ve had two years to really relax. And now I’ll come back into policing. I’m gonna enjoy this,” he said.

Colder has already picked up a favorite pastime of West Virginians — driving. He joked that instead of flying to his destinations, he went through several company cars while working as a DEA agent because he preferred to drive through the state to get where he was going, enjoying its beauty and watching seasons change.