UE Local 204
‘Best Contract in Decades’
Overcoming the effects of repeated plant sales and bankruptcy
on working conditions and unity, UE Local 204 achieved a come-back contract.
Rebuilding worker unity impacted by those changes was the necessary first
Local 204 has represented the workers at Haskon for more than
60 years. The rubber sealing plant was first owned by General Electric,
followed by Hercules, Conese and the notorious and draconian BTR. BTR milked
the factory dry and sold it to local management — which put the company into
Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings and closed the plant in April 1995. More than
$1 million was looted from the pension fund.
Five months later, Local 204 negotiated a completely new
two-year agreement with new owners, Burke Industries of San Jose, Calif.; the
contract reopened the plant but contained serious monetary, benefit, and
The company was sold yet again earlier this year to the John
F. Lehman Group. (Lehman was Secretary of the Navy in the Bush
In the five years and two contracts since the plant’s
reopening, Haskon workers have given a lot back to reestablish the company. In
2000, the membership looked forward to negotiating a new contract. Business is
booming, Local 204 has more than 120 members on two shifts working overtime
— twice the number on the job when the company closed in 1995. Unity is
Maintaining unity is difficult within a workforce divided
between those with 25 years or more seniority and those who have five years or
less. Management became expert at using any available tools to foster
differences and sow division amongst the rank and file.
Mindful of the disunity of the last five years, the local
leadership made a conscious effort to rebuild the unity that had been a
hallmark of UE 204 in years past — and the outcome of negotiations and unity
of the members put them a long way toward the rebuilding process.
The local had departmental meetings to identify and discuss
issues for negotiations. These were followed by a contract survey; many
departments had more meetings and further discussion to "jointly"
fill out the surveys. The negotiating committee met frequently to pull the
contract apart and figure out ways to restore much of the seniority and job
protections that had been lost five years ago. The membership was determined
to make this contract negotiations the best in years. The preparations paid
The leadership met continually with the members during the
lunch break to update them on negotiations’ progress and to get feedback
from the members on certain proposals.
Every day the members talked with their supervisors and let
the company know that there would be trouble if certain basic issues were not
resolved. As a result of the focus, strength, and unity of the membership,
this contract regained most of what was lost five years ago.
AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE
The most notable and unique feature of the new contract is
language which says that if the company does not respond to a grievance within
the contractual time period then it automatically agrees to the union’s
Highlights of the three-year contract include: wage increases
of $1.35; an additional $.10 added to shift differential; an additional
holiday (Veterans Day); an additional week of vacation (for a total of five
weeks) for workers with 25 years or more seniority; and improvements in job
bidding, job qualifications, bumping, lay-offs, and recalls.
"Sick time, industrial illness or accident time, and
military leave" are now counted as hours worked when computing vacation
hours. The new hire progression schedule is reduced from two years to one
year. The contract establishes 90 days’ notice of subcontracting of work.
One day of funeral leave is provided when a worker is a participant in a
The Local 204 negotiating committee consisted of Chief Steward
Paul Rose, Chief Steward Ronnie Viera, Vice Pres. Chis
Matakanski, Rec. Sec. Rich Reynolds, negotiating committee members Lance
Sciabatta, Pauline Arguin, Eddie Pina. They were assisted by UE Field Org.
UE News - 11/00