Local 243 Defends
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
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
Assa Abbloy targeted five areas for givebacks:
Close the current defined benefit pension, with a 401(k) plan as a
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
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
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.
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 Sargents 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
employees 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 doctors 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
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