Gains Fair Contract
For Locals at ABB
Our Union Stood Its Ground
left: the Local 626 negotiators, from left, Dan Speal, Art
Telford and Pres. John Nemetz. Below: the Local 625 negotiators, from left, Mark Schaffer,
Gretchen Kelly, Pam Coward, Scott Fordyce, and Pres. Merle Crossland.
By PAM COWARD
Vice President, UE Local 625
Negotiations started on Oct. 3. After exchanging proposals,
the union committee members realized they were in for a struggle. The two big
issues the company proposed consisted of medical cost-sharing and mandatory
overtime. After a long, hard battle the company refused to pull these items
off the table. When the time came to vote, the union gave the company a
two-day extension, knowing what the results of the vote would be, giving the
people a chance to make some extra money before the inevitable happened.
On the Sunday after the end of our contract, the union held a
vote. As expected, the body turned down the contract offered. Directly after
the majority turned down the vote we got called back to negotiations which
failed to come to a resolution.
LOT OF SUPPORT'
During our three-day strike, we had a lot of support by other
local unions, the South Greensburg borough and passers-by. There was a lot of
horn-honking and food drop-offs from people driving by. We really appreciated
the considerate offerings.
On the third day we went back to negotiate. Finally the
company saw that the union was standing its ground. With great reluctance the
company pulled the issues that concerned the union. We had another struggle on
our hands by getting a hold of 182 people in a three-hour time period to hold
another vote. We accomplished this and held another vote. With these items off
the table the contract passed and the third shift started back to work that
Expectations of smooth negotiations based on excellent
business conditions proved to be unfounded for members of UE Locals 625 and
626, who had to strike for three days to achieve a fair contract with ABB, a
Swedish-based manufacturer of circuit breakers.
The two locals have not been forced to the picket-lines since
The company began negotiations by reporting a substantial
growth in orders on top of several record years and a 400 percent increase in
production in recent years. But ABB’s negotiators, all of them new to the
process, then proposed major takeaways, including mandatory overtime,
restrictions on job bidding, an increase in the probation period from nine
weeks to nine months, health insurance cost sharing and a four-year contract.
'NO MANDATORY OVERTIME!'
Union members in the production unit particularly objected to
mandatory overtime and medical cost sharing. Already working some 400-500
hours overtime a year, workers resented ABB’s demand for compulsory
overtime. "If they forced it on us, they would take the work away from
others," says Local 625 Pres. Merle Crossland. "There’s an
emotional and social aspect," adds Chief Steward Scott Fordyce.
"A lot of workers are never home or have time to spend with their
children." The South Greensburg plant was the only one in the ABB chain
where workers did not contribute anything to the cost of health insurance.
During negotiations workers wore buttons reading "No
Mandatory Overtime," "No Co-Pay" and "No Lump Sums."
Every Friday, on all three shifts, they wore their union T-shirts. The
committee kept the membership well-informed on the status of the talks through
phone-trees to stewards.
"We knew mandatory overtime would take us out on the
street," says Crossland. The company didn’t, even after 10 meetings.
A strong majority of Local 625 members rejected the company’s
offer. The production and maintenance workers were on strike.
ON THE PICKET LINE
Meanwhile, office workers were unhappy with ABB’s proposals
on wages, pension, health insurance cost-shifting and a four-year contract.
Local 626 members voted unanimously to join Local 625 on the picket-line.
"I’m proud of how Local 625 people conducted
themselves," Pres. Crossland says.
The two UE locals enjoyed inspiring support from the
community, ranging from enthusiastic horn-honking to food contributions.
Teamsters members, working without a contract at Allegheny Power, stopped by
to offer support.
On the second day of the strike, ABB asked for resumption of
talks. Both locals reached tentative agreements the following day which
received membership ratification.
To facilitate ABB’s plans to relocate to larger facilities
in the region, both local unions agreed to a four-year contract. Health
insurance will continue to be completely company-paid until the fourth year,
when employees will make small payments.
Under both contracts, wages will increase by 3.5, 3, 3 and 4
percent. The pension formula will be increased in the third year to 2.6
percent times annual gross earnings.
Local 625 succeeded in blocking mandatory overtime. The
probationary period will be five months, with medical coverage beginning on
the first day of work and a $10 an hour starting wage.
The Local 625 contract adds two floating holidays. Sickness
and accident benefits are increased to $350 a week the first year and to $375
the third year.
The Local 626 contract increases the retirement supplement,
personal days, vacation and severance pay and establishes double-time for the
first 8 hours on a holiday, and double-time and one-half for subsequent hours.
The Local 625 negotiating committee consisted of Pres.
Crossland, Chief Steward Fordyce, Vice Pres. Pam Coward, Rec. Sec. Gretchen
Kelly and Fin. Sec. Mark Schaffer.
The Local 626 negotiating committee consisted of Pres. John
Nemetz, Vice Pres. Dan Speal and Art Telford.
The two locals were assisted by Field Org. Jim Brown
and Intl. Rep. Marion Washington.
UE News - 2/02