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Three-Day Strike
Gains Fair Contract
For Locals at ABB


Our Union Stood Its Ground

Local 626 negotiators: Speal, Telford and Nemetz On the picket line ...
Above, 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.
Local 625 negotiators: Schaffer, Kelly, Coward, Fordyce and Crossland

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.


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 evening.

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 1981.

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.


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.


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

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