UE Local 226 Members
Local 226 members relax on
the Bacon-Felt loading dock after the successful completion of
For Local 226, like other UE locals, health care emerged as
the principal issue in recent negotiations. Once again, the key to resolving
this issue became membership involvement, action, strength and determination.
While not all of the local’s goals were achieved, the final contract is
regarded as one of the best overall contract settlements in years.
Local 226 represents the workers at Bacon Felt, Inc., a
subsidiary of Taibo Industries of Japan. These UE members make high quality
and specialized commercial felt products for the jewelry, auto, music, and
office products industry. From polishing wheels, to felt tip pen nibs, to
piano hammer felts, Local 226 members have secured some of the best wage and
benefit packages of any felt workers in North America, most of whom are
non-union. A number of non-union competitors have shut down in recent years,
leaving Bacon Felt as one of the few remaining commercial felt manufacturers.
As basic goals in these negotiations, the union called for:
fair wage increases; inequity increase for the underpaid Kicker Mill job;
continuation of the health insurance benefit levels, provider network, and
fully company-paid premiums; solid improvements in the pension multiplier,
improvements in the dental plan, and improvements in the recall rights of any
The company, meanwhile, sought concessions in virtually all
areas of the contract. Right up to the final hours of negotiations, the
company was pushing hard for proposals that would have required some union
members to work forced overtime and pay more for their medical insurance. The
company also insisted on a medical plan that would have forced some workers
and their families to change doctors.
In addition, the company insisted on deleting all double-time
provisions, reducing the vacation schedule for new hires, and allowing the
company to ignore senior laid-off workers by giving preference to less senior
workers collecting workers’ compensation.
UE members firmly stuck to their conviction of "no
cutbacks — only gains." Local 226 reached nearly all its goals; the UE
226 membership successfully resisted each and every give-back.
"This was a watershed contract for us" said Local
226 Pres. Joe Branco. "We made gains in the pension and wages that we
haven’t seen in nine years. We finally got full recall rights for laid-off
workers that we have been slowly inching towards over the last few contracts.
We maintained our standards for full health insurance coverage, provider
network, and company-paid premiums.
"The involvement, strength, and activity of the
membership got this settlement," Branco continued. "For over a week
the membership did lunch-time pickets in front of the company and wore
stickers with their demands. The company knew the membership was ready to ‘hit
the streets’ if it didn’t get what we needed and in the final hours the
company finally came to their senses."
STUMBLING BLOCKS OVERCOME
A key stumbling block was the company’s desire to change
HMOs, forcing many workers and/or their spouses to change primary-care
physicians — and the refusal of the new HMO to allow OB-GYNs to be primary
care physicians. Local 226 members insisted that any change in health
insurance carriers should not require a change of doctors.
In an extraordinary move, Bacon Felt agreed to set up an
account with those doctors who are not part of the new insurance plan’s
primary physician network; physicians will "draw off" that account
when their UE 226 patients go to them for primary care. In addition, should
workers choose to be covered by their spouse’s medical plan, the company
will pay that employee the equivalent of half the cost of the premium the
company would have paid, single or family.
The three-year agreement also provides Bacon Felt workers with
a $1.10 wage increase over three years, bringing the average wage to $13.39.
The Kicker Mill operator will receive an additional $.50 per hour upgrade. The
pension increases from $17 to $19. Sickness and accident insurance increases
from $250 to $280 and "day surgery" is treated as a
"hospitalization" for the purposes of benefit payments.
"Significant other" is added in the bereavement provisions.
The UE Local 226 negotiating committee consisted of Pres. Joe
Branco, Chief Steward Gene Levesque, Rec. Sec. Tony Freitas,
Sec.-Treas. Bill Faidell and Exec. Board member Joao Rego. They
were assisted by Field Org. Peter Knowlton.
UE News - 10/99