Entoleter Strikers March
Into Work with a Victory
Celebrating their victory:
Entoleter workers end their 100 day strike.
Entoleter workers, members of amalgamated UE Local 299,
proudly marched back in to their plant on Thursday, August 12, ending a
100-day strike after unanimously ratifying their new contract. In a
significant victory for the 16 union members at Entoleter, the union was able
to achieve nearly all of its major goals while successfully fighting off the
company’s efforts to force concessions from the union.
Local 299 members struck to win a fair wage increase, protect
their health insurance coverage and maintain job security and health benefits
while on leaves of absence.
In January, months before the April 30 contract expiration,
Entoleter management decided to change health insurance providers without
bargaining with the union. Union members opposed this change and demanded
negotiations. For months, the union fought to force the company to bargain
over the change in health insurance using workplace action, grievances,
petitions and other tactics. Still, the company refused to discuss the change
in health insurance providers.
The local entered negotiations in March with three major
goals: to secure a decent wage increase, force the company to bargain over
health insurance and gain medical coverage and job protection for employees on
either sick leave or workers’ compensation leave. Meanwhile, the company
wanted give backs in major areas such as holidays, life insurance, leaves of
absence, leave for union business, maternity leave, earned time off and health
insurance. The negotiating committee let the company know that the local did
not intend to move backwards, and that there would be a war at Entoleter if
the concessions did not come off the table by April 30.
THE STRIKE IS ON
While many of the Company’s proposed concessions came off of
the table by the strike deadline, the company continued to insist on takeaways
in union leave, maternity leave, sick leave, workers’ compensation leave and
health insurance. And the company still refused to negotiate seriously over
health insurance. By unanimous vote on May 3, the membership shut down
Entoleter and hit the picket line.
While the small size and diversity of the workforce at
Entoleter presented challenges for the local, the members rose to the occasion
in ways never seen before in the history of the organization at Entoleter.
Recalling Local 299’s historic strike at nearby Circuit-Wise, which began 10
years ago this September, workers of different races and ethnic backgrounds
came together to support each other.
Enduring hot days and a summer-long drought, pickets marched
in groups of eight over two shifts six days a week, keeping the plant
completely shut down for the duration of the strike. Maintaining a solid
picket line was key to the victory. In the face of management tactics such as
using surveillance, attempts at provocation by hired security guards, threats
to close the plant and attempts to bring in permanent replacements, all 16 UE
members stood strong and remained rock-solid in their conviction to win decent
health insurance, a fair wage increase and job security.
The strike committee made sure that everyone had food to eat
and means of transportation. The committee also helped out with bills and
ROVING PICKET LINE
When the company tried to get work done at local
subcontractors, the picket line followed. Noisy demonstrations in front of
these factories put more pressure on Entoleter to settle the strike, and one
subcontractor agreed to help UE in exchange for a cessation of regular
picketing in front of his factory.
In a last-ditch effort to break the strike, the company
contracted a temporary agency to hire permanent replacements. The temporary
agency was immediately subjected to noisy picketing and soon agreed to sever
its ties with Entoleter. The company then ran an ad in the newspaper. This,
too, failed. Strikers convinced the vast majority of would-be replacements not
to cross the picket line.
Regular picket-line support came from UE Local 299 members at
Circuit-Wise as well as UE Local 243 members at Sargent. Picket line rallies
drew hundreds of union members and supporters form UE locals around District
Two, including Locals 274, 264, 262 and 259 as well as Locals 299 and 243. The
Greater New Haven Central Labor Council, a long time UE ally, provided picket
line support and financial donations to the strike fund. Labor Council
President Bob Proto spoke at the picket line rallies, letting the company
know that an attack on UE Local 299 represented an attack on the whole labor
movement. Other unions such as SEIU/1199, HERE Locals 34 and 35 at Yale
University, the APSU and various AFSCME locals contributed financial and
The majority of strike fund donations, however, came from UE
locals from Boston, Mass. to Ontario, Calif. In a plant-gate collection, UE
Local 243 members at Sargent collected $500 for the strike fund. In a letter
thanking UE locals for supporting the strike, UE Local 299 Pres. Dorothy
Johnson and Chief Steward Bob Orlando wrote that "without this
generous support, we wouldn’t have come this far."
After weeks of paying inflated costs to subcontractors and
shipping damaged products to major costumers while seeing no break in the
resolve of the strikers, the company came to the bargaining table ready for
serious negotiations. After the two sides hammered out the major issues, the
contract was presented to the membership and ratified 16-0.
The new three year agreement calls for 3.5 percent increases
in wages each year. In addition, workers receive a $1,500 signing bonus.
UE members maintain their health coverage without moving to
the inferior health insurance plan proposed by the company. Employees will now
be insured by Connecticare, the highest rated insurance plan in Connecticut.
Although members had wanted to stay on a Blue Cross/ Blue Shield plan,
problems with this company’s underwriting rules meant it would have been
difficult to secure Blue Cross/Blue Shield without staying on strike for a
significantly longer period of time. When members felt it was time to look at
health insurance outside of Blue Cross/Blue Shield, it was the members, not
the company who decided which plan would be offered at Entoleter.
Another significant gain is new contract language restricting
the company’s ability to change health insurance providers without the
workers’ approval. This was a hard-won improvement which addressed one of
the major strike issues.
The union also made gains in workers’ compensation leave and
sick leave. Employees are now guaranteed up to 1 year of sick leave with full
medical benefits. Also, medical benefits will be extended to employees out on
workers’ compensation leave for up to one year.
The new tentative agreement also calls for improvements in
life insurance, holidays and safety shoe reimbursement.
The Local 299 negotiating members were Chief Steward Bob
Orlando, Steward Maxie Lowery, Albert Caserta and Ted Smith.
They were assisted by Field Organizers Mark Meinster and Paul Ryan.
UE News - 08/99