Local 697 First Contract
After 11-Month Struggle
FIRST CONTRACT A three week strike last fall was part of what it took but new UE Local 697 never
gave up in their struggle for justice and a voice on the job.
Ratification of a first UE contract by Local 697 members, employees of the office furniture manufacturer Flex-Y-Plan in
Fairview, brings to a conclusion a long and difficult eleven-month challenge to rank-and-file unionism. The three-year agreement,
highlighted by 6%, 4% and 3% wage increases, includes a new wage progression system and inequity adjustments that will immediately result
in pay raises of well over one dollar per hour for many workers. For most skilled jobs, the progression time needed to reach the top of
the pay rate has been slashed from five years to two years. For all other jobs, the progression time is now only one year.
"It could be better, it could be the way it was before, too," observes Local Pres. Ken Dingus. "Its a
pretty good contract."
ORGANIZED ... AND DETERMINED
The Flex-Y-Plan contract is the fruit of a bitter struggle characterized by impressive worker organization within Local
697 and strong inter-local solidarity. Flex-Y-Plan workers faced a serious challenge soon after voting to be represented by UE in January
1997; Flex-Y-Plan immediately hired a local attorney to stall and frustrate the bargaining process.
However, Local officers and department stewards quickly mobilized and secured 100 percent union sign-up only one week
after the election. A large negotiating committee was elected and workers were kept informed and involved in the bargaining process with
bulletin boards, lunch time meetings and a shop newsletter.
UE members responded to company stalling in negotiations with picketing before and after work; the several rallies called
by Local 697 saw broad participation by other UE District Six locals, especially from those in the Erie area. Rallies and picketing also
took place at the offices of the company-hired attorney, which helped to keep the workers plight in the media. A trailer across the
street from the plant became a center for informational meetings. Workers wore union stickers, buttons, hats and T-shirts.
THREE-WEEK STRIKE ... AND SETTLEMENT
Work stoppages protested company stalling; the employer fired Local Pres. Ken Dingus on November 3 for leading what
Flex-Y-Plan called an "illegal" walkout. Defending their rights, Local 697 members launched a three-week strike. Picket lines
were manned twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Again, inter-local solidarity was strong as other UE Local members could be found
on the picket line. In addition, National Labor Relations Board charges were filed against Flex-Y-Plan, including charges relating to the
illegal dismissal of Ken Dingus.
Settlement was finally reached on Dec. 14, 1997. It took over forty bargaining sessions for the negotiating committee to
reach a settlement with the company.
Although pleased with their first contract, Local 697 members regret that the settlement failed to include the
reinstatement of their president. But the return of Ken Dingus appears to be a matter of time. The NLRB issued a complaint against
Flex-Y-Plan citing 16 separate violations of federal labor law, including the blatantly illegal Dingus firing. A trial before a Labor
Board administrative law judge is scheduled for Feb. 24.
The Local 697 negotiating committee members were Pres. Ken Dingus, Chief Steward Roy Baire, Brian "Beetle"
Bailey, Mark Prizinsky, Jim Goetzinger, Bill Markley and Mark Walsh. They were assisted by Field Org.John Lambiase and Intl. Rep. Marion