Gains in Vacations, Seniority Rights
Contract at Newell;
Long Strike Ends
A long hot summer is nearly over in this Ohio River town, as members
of UE Local 611 return to work at Newell Porcelain after a 12-week strike.
The 67 union members faced provocations from a unionbusting security
force, strikebreakers, an injunction, an intransigent management and a relentless summer
sun that turned picket-line shanties into something resembling ovens.
But well-organized strike committees, support from family and neighbors
and from UE and other unions, and their own dogged determination saw Local 611 members
into nearly their fourth month on the picket line.
In the final weeks, the plant manager quit, damaged parts piled
ever-higher in scrap bins and the company=s
chairman of the board involved himself in negotiations.
Local 611 members voted 55-7 to strike effective 11 p.m. on May 10 when
negotiations failed to produce improvements in seniority and wages. By a much closer vote,
Local 611 members on Aug. 3 ratified a settlement reached the night before.
Wages will be increased by $1.25 over four years. In addition, maintenance
employees will get an additional $1 within the next one year, delivered in two 50-cent
Local 611 members had hoped to scrap a departmental seniority system that
sometimes left long-service workers vulnerable to layoff; failing to reach that goal this
time, the union obtained language that protects senior workers by allowing them to bump
back into their original areas.
UE members fended off any increase in insurance deductibles --- and will
continue to enjoy health insurance without employee contributions towards the premium.
The 1998 negotiations broke through the two-year cap on vacations; those
workers with 10 or more years= service will
receive a third week of vacation, a gain which will affect a majority of Newell employees
during the contract term.
Disability coverage is increased to $250 a week. Life insurance goes from
$10,000 to $12,500. The company=s contribution
to the 401(k) plan rises from 25 cents to 40 cents.
All strikers will be returning to work, including those fired as a result
of a picket-line incident C instigated,
witnesses say, by a security guard who smacked his walkie-talkie against the head of Field
Org. Shane Carlin. Due to the nature of the production process C Local 611 members make ceramic insulators used on
electrical power lines C a slow start-up process
will bring all workers back to the job by Sept. 8.
From the first week of the strike the support of neighbors was evident by
the posters in windows of homes and stores. Two Newell business owners posted bond for the
workers facing charges because of the picket-line incident. Clergy and family turned out
for a prayer vigil during the first week of the strike; the First Presbyterian Church,
just a block from the plant, provided desserts for the local=s spaghetti dinner one week before negotiators
initialed the settlement.
An Ohio food bank provided a truck load of victuals, as many of the
strikers live on the Buckeye side of the river. The independent union at nearby Weirton
Steel and the USWA local at Wheeling-Pitt made hefty donations. Employees of the Homer
Laughlin China Co., next door to Newell Porcelain, conducted food drives to support Local
611 members. UE Local 506 weighed in with a big contribution, and donations to the strike
fund were made by the National union and UE locals in District Six and around the union.
Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark made several trips to the picket line.
Serving on the UE Local 611 negotiating committee were Pres. Allen AButch@
Potts; Vice Pres. Paul Geisse; Rec. Sec. Mary Ice; Ron Richmond and Dave Buchner. The
committee was assisted by Intl. Rep. Marion Washington and Field Org. Shane Carlin.