Local Helps Save
Celebrating Steeltechs success are, from right
Local 1127 Chief Steward Eugene Baldwin, Pres. Brian Childs and Milwaukee Mayor John
Local 1127 successfully completed negotiations on a wage re-opener
with Steeltech Manufacturing, but not before helping to rally political support to keep
the company in the metal fabrication and metal coating business.
The nearly 200 union members faced the prospect of mass layoffs when two
major jobs were completed at the end of June and in mid-July. The headline "Steeltech
faces an uncertain future" which ran above an article warning of bankruptcy
and layoffs in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on May 31 was not the kind of news
that boded well for negotiations.
Such headlines were a far cry from the fanfare in the companys early
days. Created in 1990 as a minority-controlled business in order to win a federal
government contract, Steeltech was praised by then-President George Bush in 1992 as proof
"that the American Dream can still come true."
Set up with a mixture of public and private funds, Steeltech had a mission
of creating jobs in the inner city.
Steeltech also made headlines when workers demanded decent wages and
conditions and organized into UE. Two elections and a union-community campaign finally
secured company recognition of UE Local 1127 and a first contract. Thanks to the union,
workers earned an average hourly wage of $11.50 prior to the re-opener.
An array of unusual problems confronted the company from the beginning.
Indebtedness and attempts to reposition itself as a civilian contractor led to the
perception that Steeltech faced an "uncertain future" as claimed by the
Threatened by mass layoffs or a shutdown, Local 1127 members went into
action and applied some of the lessons learned in their organizing struggle. With
assistance from District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen, who made contact with company officials, the
local union developed a plan and enlisted the aid of UE Political Action Dir. Chris
Local Pres. Brian Childs, Townsend and Field Org. Lynn Swiertz met with
city, county, state and federal officials, giving them the facts on Steeltechs
viability and potential, and arguing for the continuing need for family-sustaining jobs in
Milwaukees inner city.
Local Pres. Childs and UE staff met with several city councilors, county
commissioners, the county executives office, state representatives, state senators,
Mayor John Norquists office, the city development office, the state Commerce Dept.,
Gov. Thompsons office and the staff of U.S. Rep. Thomas Barrett and Senators Russ
Feingold and Herb Kohl.
The union brokered a meeting between company officials and political
leaders, which led to a new effort to assist the company in sustaining its transition from
military to civilian contractor. Steeltech workers were kept informed; Local 1127 leaders
met with the workforce in the plant to bring their co-workers up-to-date after the
important meeting between the company and elected officials and on other occasions.
Today, instead of laying off UE members, Steeltech is hiring.
COMPANY GETS CONTRACT
Steeltech won a $2 million contract connected to construction of the
citys new baseball stadium, Miller Park. Steeltech will assemble, fabricate and
paint the steel panels and trusses that will make up the stadiums retractable roof.
The work will keep most of the work force employed during the next 18 months. Workers and
management alike hope that this important contract will lead to others.
Local Pres. Childs and Chief Steward Eugene Baldwin were recognized by the
company at a press conference announcing the Miller Park contract.
With the companys short-term future secure, Local 1127 moved into
mid-term negotiations determined to improve the living standards of Steeltech workers.
Winning a raise was considered important to maintaining the long-term viability of the
company through retaining a trained workforce.
Workers backed-up the negotiating committee by wearing buttons and turning
out for meetings in front of the plant. On the next-to last day of negotiations, workers
stood outside the windows of the room where bargaining was underway. They were noticed.
Under the terms of the agreement ratified on June 28, workers will receive
an across-the-board wage increase of 4 percent effective July 1 and an additional increase
of 3 percent effective Jan. 1, 1999. Employees at the top rate of Labor Grade 2 will
receive an additional 20 cents on Jan. 1, 1999.
All employees working at a rate below the start rate of their labor grade
are moved to the start rate on July 1; the wage increase is applied to their new rate. The
start rate is improved to $11.
Negotiations also gained an extra paid personal day for all employees who
have three or more years of service.
The UE committee made a strong push for wage progression but were unable
to prevail. However, the company pledged to discuss specific cases of pay inequity
submitted in writing. Local 1127 plans to revisit this issue when the current three-year
contract (which took effective July 1 last year) expires in June 2000.
The UE Local 1127 committee consisted of Pres. Brian Childs, Chief Steward
Eugene Baldwin, Mike Miller, Cleveland "Pete" Baker, Kenneth "Hakim"
Black and Derroll Prince. They were assisted by Field Org. Lynn Swiertz.