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Local 271 Convinces
USM: No Concessions


Local 271 members at USM

The small but militant UE band at United Shoe Machinery was not interested in buying the company’s concessions rationale.

Going into negotiations with United Shoe Machinery, UE Local 271 members had made it very clear: "Don’t mess with our healthcare, and don’t expect any concessions." The company apparently didn’t get the message — at first.

United Shoe Machinery’s more than 50 language proposals ranged from the introduction of part-time work to gutting overtime premium pay. And then there were the economic proposals. United Shoe Machinery looked for a freeze on wages and pension benefits, and that wasn’t all.

The company also wanted to eliminate retirees’ healthcare coverage, end the continuation of medical coverage with severance, change the co-pay from a set dollar amount to a percentage and increase the co-pay on medical to a 25 percent contribution. And USM wanted Local 271 to surrender its rights to negotiate over health plans.

As a rationale, the company cited a need to cut costs to remain competitive. A wage freeze and change in medical plan had already been imposed on salaried employees.


United Shoe Machinery asked for a one-year contract, almost neglecting to mention that when its lease expires on Dec. 31, 2001, there is a better than 90 percent chance of relocation, and probably out of state.

"When the company came to us demanding concessions after making it widely known that they are going to be gone by the end of next year we were not interested and told them we would rather close the doors now rather than being bled to death," is how one member described workers’ reaction.

When management called a shop meeting to request volunteers for overtime, workers offered "a cold reception with a ‘hell, no!’ mixed in for good measure." When the committee reported a lack of progress in negotiations, everyone gathered their cars at the base of the shop’s driveway — while the office staff were leaving — to prepare picket-duty assignments. Workers wore their union t-shirts throughout negotiations. On a predetermined day, workers arrived early, parked their cars in front of management office windows using windshield sun-screens as signs.

In the end, Local 271 negotiated an acceptable agreement, ratified by a large majority.

The two-year contract contains hourly wage increases of 2.5 percent in each year, a pension increase of 50 cents in each year, no change in healthcare benefits and an improved vacation schedule that will allow less senior employees to get more days off faster.

The company will now pay 100 percent of medical insurance if a worker is out on workers’ compensation or sickness and accident leave. Any unused portion of the eye-care benefit may be rolled over from year to year.

The UE Local 271 committee consisted of Carl Remare, Charlie Piper and Claude "Red" Hiltz. They were assisted by UE Field Org. Andrew Dinkelaker.

UE News - 10/00

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