With New Contract,
UE Local 204 Proves
It Pays to Be Unified
And Stand Strong
Unity, militance, and the active involvement of every member’s participation led the way and forged the new contract at
UE Local 204 during negotiations with Kirkhill TA, Haskon Division. From the start, the company said that they were going to get all
workers to pay 10 percent of the insurance premium by the end of the agreement and the contract was going to be five years long. The Local
204 membership had other ideas — and those ideas prevailed.
In 1995, the local union discovered the company had stolen more than $1 million from the pension fund and used it for
operating expenses. Weeks later the company went bankrupt and more than 100 UE Local 204 members lost their jobs. It re-opened three
months later with a new owner and a new union contract that contained huge concessions in every area.
Eight years later, the members have seen Haskon bought and sold 3 more times and after each contract the membership has
become more unified and the contract has been vastly improved each time.
"I cannot think of time in recent years where the membership has been so united," said Local 204 Pres. Paul
Rose. "Out of the 120 workers, 40 have more than 25 years and 80 have seven years or less. This can create internal organization
problems at times but the membership is so unified right now that I think the ‘bad old days’ are behind us. Everyone was saying how
good it felt to be this active and together."
SENDING A MESSAGE
Literally on every wall throughout the shop, Local 204 members posted signs to declare their rejection of the company’s
intention of having them pay a percentage of the insurance premium while granting minimal wage increases. Entire paragraphs were written
on large sheets of cardboard telling the company that if wasn’t for the workers there wouldn’t be any company. "We make the
wealth — you pay the health" was a popular sticker — along with a few hundred others. Every wall of the factory was subject to
postering — including the walls outside of the bosses’ offices and conference room. No wall was safe. The posters were under the
watchful eye of the second shift mascot made from the rubber compound normally used to make aircraft seals — "Pancho Villa."
The protector dutifully and somberly sat on a press that had crushed the hand of a Local 204 member during the last week of the contract
and now sat idle.
Stickers stated the demands of Local 204 on a decent wage increase, no percentage co-pays on the health insurance, and no
givebacks were everywhere and anywhere on UE members, shop walls, chairs, benches, and even the backs of foreman as they got their
"good morning" pat on the back by a union member.
‘FINAL OFFER’ REJECTED
The membership resoundingly rejected by 90 percent the company’s final offer on the final day of the old contract. The
company proposed a five-year contract, minimal wage increases in the first three years, and hefty insurance premium payments (10 percent
of the total premium) amounting to $38 a week for families by the end of the fifth year. The company knew that if it didn’t change their
final proposals the membership was prepared to strike. One hundred percent of the workforce had publically signed up for picket shifts and
committee assignments. The District Two strike trailer was ready.
It took another week of negotiating sessions with the membership continuing to "work" and taking long extended
lunch breaks of an hour or more as the negotiating committee would recount the previous session, followed by the necessary discussion
among the members. One lunch-time rally brought out UE Local 226 members from Bacon Felt just down the street, among them Local 226 Pres.
John Rego and Chief Steward John Fernandes. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Brother Fernandes had been the president of UE Local 204 at
Haskon. His tenure included the tumultuous and notorious years when Haskon was owned by the unionbusting British Tire and Rubber (BTR).
After going a week beyond the contract expiration date the company came back with a final offer the membership could
accept and it was approved overwhelmingly. The new agreement, of three years’ duration, contains numerous language and job security
Workers’ recall rights and protection for workers hurt on the job are significantly improved, with five years’
protection for workers with five years or more seniority. The contract improves language for job bidding and transfers, abolishes written
tests for certain skilled maintenance positions, improved transfer language and pay rate amounts. The contract also improves seniority
protection for workers who are called up to active military duty or who enlist in the military. The company agrees to support the
establishment of ESL (English as a Second Language) classes in-shop.
The wage increases are $.40, $.40, $.50. Under the previous contract, single workers paid nothing for the health and
dental insurance and families paid up to $10 per week. By the beginning of the third year all workers, single and family, will pay $15 per
week for medical and dental insurance. The company cannot modify the medical and dental insurance plan designs, co-pay amounts, choice of
medical providers, etc. during the life of the agreement.
The UE Local 204 negotiating committee consisted of Pres. Paul Rose, Vice Pres. Chris Matakanski, Chief
Steward Jim Wilkinson, Sec.-Treas. Ron Vieira, Rec. Sec. Lance Scibetta, First Shift Dept. Steward Pauline Arguin,
and Second Shift Dept. Steward Jason Dominick. They were assisted by UE District Two Pres. Peter Knowlton.
UE News - 7/03