Fairbanks Improves Offer,
Local 234 Ends Strike
ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt.
The members of UE Local 234 returned to work together the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 19, following their decision on Monday
to accept a new company offer and conclude a three-week strike forced by unreasonable employer demands.
Union members stopped work on Monday, Nov. 4, when more than a month of negotiations and bargaining throughout the
preceding weekend failed to convince Fairbanks Scales to adjust its offer. Particularly unacceptable was the company insistence on a
pension freeze and a substantial wage cut in the form of payments for health insurance. The pension freeze would have condemned younger
workers to a poverty pension and punished employees for long service.
"Basically we went out on strike because of the pension and health care," says Local 234 Pres. Bob South.
"Everybody knows health care is a big issue at all our UE shops. They wanted us to pay $139.10 a week for the family plan."
In the face of worker unity and widespread community support for the strike, Fairbanks agreed to modify its proposals.
Union members calculated that settlement was advisable.
Fairbanks abandoned its effort to freeze the pension indefinitely. Although workers will lose one year in pension credits,
the pension is unfrozen in the third (and final) year covered by the agreement. (Those retiring during the contract term will not lose the
full value of the benefit in the second year.) In addition, the company reduced the asked-for co-pays on prescription drugs in the first
year and reduced the co-pays on the premiums in the second and third years.
Wages will increase by 26 cents an hour in the second and third years of the contract. The contract improves accident and
sickness benefits and expands bereavement leave.
"The sisters and brothers felt very good about the fight they waged and the stand they took against the
company," says UE District Two Pres. Peter Knowlton, who took part in negotiations.
Many members turned out for negotiations, to show their support for the Local 234 committee through their presence. As the
old contract expired at midnight Oct. 31 with negotiations still underway, something like three-quarters of the Local 234 members came
out. "This made it clear to the committee that the membership was ready to take the company on," says Pres. South.
‘AMAZING’ COMMUNITY SUPPORT
Local 234 members, in fighting to protect their healthcare, pensions, and livelihoods, enjoyed widespread community
support throughout their three-week strike.
"This strike seemed to strike a chord with people in the Northeast Kingdom who have been experiencing huge layoffs
lately and have had more economic devastation heaped upon them, over the last year, than most areas of New England," Knowlton says.
"The community support was amazing," Knowlton reports. "Restaurants brought prepared food to the picket
line; teachers came down in groups to picket and present petitions of support; workers from Vermont Central Power brought food, money,
themselves, and would go by in truck caravans just about every day with their horns blaring; the Vermont Workers Rights Center came down
and helped get the word out; UPS drivers walked the line many times, and there was much, much more."
Community support was noisy as it was noticeable. With 536 cars passing the picket line on one shift, 496 drivers honked
horns to show their sympathies.
A Nov. 12 rally saw a 100 percent turnout by Fairbanks workers, with more than 100 supporters coming from the community,
delegations from UE locals, IBEW, Steelworkers, Washington-Orange Central Labor Council, Vermont Livable Wage Coalition, Vermont Workers’
Center, North Country Coalition and Unitarian Church.The rally was addressed by U.S. Rep. Bernard Sanders (I.) and by Anthony
Pollina, Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor.
EXCESSIVE, REPRESSIVE, RECKLESS
An excessive security presence complicated the strike. Fairbanks Scales hired the Caledonia County Sheriff’s Department
to provide security, and the erstwhile public servants displayed scant regard for the public and its constitutional rights. On the first
day of the strike, one deputy sheriff proclaimed the entryway to the plant off-limits, and threatened a striker who questioned his
On Nov. 12, a picket line of Vermonters intent on exercising their rights slowed the egress of a truck-driving UPS
supervisor whose reckless exit the day before nearly injured six strikers. On this occasion a deputy sheriff punched a woman striker in
the mouth. Deputies used mace as well as their fists in dealing with hard-working Vermonters taking a stand for decent living standards.
The Local 234 negotiating committee consisted of Pres. South, Vice Pres. Shirley Nutting, Chief Steward Tanya
Brown, Laurie Gamble, Sally Lewis, Kathy Taylor, and retiree Bucky Lachlan. They were assisted by Field Org. Rachel Clough
and retired Field Org. Eddie Carbone. District Pres. Knowlton attended several sessions. UE Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley also
came to the table to assist in finding a resolution.
(This story updates an article posted earlier in UE News Update).