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Local 243 Defends
Family-Supporting Wages

NEW HAVEN, Conn.

The right of factory workers to enjoy a decent standard of living received a resounding reaffirmation when UE Local 243 prevailed in negotiations concluded on March 5.

The 500 members of Local 243 were pitted against a multi-billion-dollar, multinational corporation determined to reduce their wages and benefits.

Local 243 members are employed by Sargent Lock, a respected manufacturer of locks, door closers and architectural hardware. Locally owned for much of its existence, Sargent was purchased about two years ago by Assa Abbloy, the largest lock manufacturer in Europe.

The Swedish-based company entered its first-ever negotiations with Local 243 committed to lowering workers’ wages and benefits. Sargent workers’ pay levels were pitted against those of lower-paid factory workers in Connecticut, the southern U.S. and Mexico. Contrasting the average Sargent hourly wage of $15.30 with the Connecticut manufacturing average of $12.50, the company insisted that wage levels be driven downward.

Assa Abbloy targeted five areas for givebacks:

  • Close the current defined benefit pension, with a 401(k) plan as a replacement.

  • Force people to sell back part of the wage rates earned on incentive pay; this would be a pay cut.

  • A lump sum in the first year of the contract instead of a raise.

  • A tiered wage system with new hires earning $3 an hour less than current employees.

  • An increase in weekly health insurance co-payment. Going into negotiations, new hires paid a small weekly co-pay while 80 percent of the workforce paid nothing.

Complicating negotiations were at least two offers for the land where the Sargent plant is located. City leaders would like to build a mall on the land; company officials tried to use this threat as leverage in bargaining.

BACKWARDS, NEVER

Led by Local Pres. Raymond Pompano, the UE committee forcefully told the company that the union was not interested in discussing ways of cutting wages and benefits. We are moving forwards and not backwards, the committee said.

The committee kept the membership informed with regular leaflets and two mass meetings outside the plant during working hours. Members wore buttons and demonstrated their support for the committee.

With negotiations proceeding slowly, Local 243 planned a major rally on the front lawn of Sargent’s for Saturday, March 7, with community and labor supporters and UE members from around New England. Pres. Pompano had secured commitments from District Two locals; attendance in the four figures was forecasted.

Cancellation notices had to be hurriedly rushed around the region. In a marathon, 19-hour session, the two parties reached agreement on a contract settlement. Following a lively, noisy membership meeting, 75 percent of union members voted to ratify.

"This contract fight was about keeping good jobs and decent benefits," said Pres. Pompano.

"This was a very difficult negotiations," he continued. "We were able to hold on to what we have because of the support of our members and because of the outstanding committee that our members elected. It is because of our membership that we still have the best wages and benefits in New Haven."

GAINS, NOT GIVEBACKS

The new contract calls for wage increases of 30 cents an hour in each of the three years covered by the agreement. There is no lump sum. At the end of the contract term, the average wage will be $16.20 an hour.

There will be no tiered wage system and no mandatory buy-back of wages from the company. Any buy-back will be optional, with a minimum of 50 percent of the value of add-on pay, and calculated by taking the total hourly amount of any add-on pay above an employee’s labor grade maximum and multiplying that amount times 3,000 hours. If workers are displaced due to the introduction of new machinery, they will have the option of carrying their add-on pay or having the add-on bought out.

Screw machine operators with the ability to set up and operate CNCs, Browne & Sharpes and New Britain Gridley machines will be elevated to labor grade 1.

Sargent workers retain their defined benefit plan; the benefit will increase by $2.25 over three years.

There will be no increase in weekly co-pay for health insurance. This means the weekly co-pay has not gone up for nine years. Sargent workers did agree to pay for doctor’s visits and for prescriptions. Up to this point, health insurance for the vast majority of members has cost nothing. Blue Cross/Blue Shield is seeking a 36 percent rate increase, which will cost the company $1 million. A union-company search committee will look for "the most comprehensive, cost effective health insurance carrier."

The contract increases life insurance.

New contract language limits temporary workers. All current temps with six or more months of service will either be hired or discontinued from service by April 1.

When the company combines jobs, the employee shall receive the rate of the highest applicable labor grade. The company agrees to notify the union when significant new production machinery is about to arrive in the plant.

The company, working in conjunction with the New Haven Adult Education Dept., will provide English language classes to interested employees.

The UE Local 243 committee consisted of Pres. Raymond Pompano, Fran Amendola, Lucy Boomer, Bob Cox, Archie Foster, Tony Izzo, Cynthia Jones, Sal Luzzi, Wayne Morrison and Steve Saunders. They were assisted by Field Organizers Steve Hinds and Paul Ryan.

UE News - 03/98


Home -> UE News -> 1998 Archives -> Article

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