The attorney for OEM began negotiations with amalgamated UE Local 683 by
threatening workers in the plastics industry shop with a dramatically worsened future: A
24-hour-a-day, holiday-free work environment, with 12- and 16-hour shifts, and $1 an hour
reduction in the starting wage.
Thats not how the new contract ratified Nov. 23 reads, however.
During the intervening weeks, the culturally diverse OEM workforce united in defense of
their conditions, backed by the other members of Local 683 and the other four UE locals in
Erie. (Some seven different nationalities and 13 different languages are represented among
the UE membership at OEM.)
On Tuesday, Nov. 17 officers and members of UE Locals 506, 618, 692 and
697 congregated at the OEM plant gate, "to let the company know that we in UE stand
together," said Local 683 Pres. Rich Drylie. Local 683 members who were
changing shifts all joined at the gate to show their opposition to the companys
attack on OEM workers.
Buttons proudly worn by every OEM worker expressed opposition to the
12-hour work day written in a number of languages, including Arabic and the Bosnian
members Serbo-Croatian. Chants of "No way 12-hour day!" rang out into the
days cold mist and caught the companys attention.
Management personnel came out to remind demonstrators to stay off company
property; the police arrived to get traffic moving again. As District Six Pres. John
Lambiase remarked, it was all "good fun."
Immediately following the demonstration, the presidents of the UE locals
accompanied the UE-OEM negotiating committee to the company attorneys office for a
bargaining session. The attorney became increasingly unsettled as the UE local officers
calmly explained why they objected to OEMs planned mistreatment of its workforce.
"After a great deal of committee work and a few more long and
grueling sessions, the seemingly undoable had been done," Local Pres. Drylie
reported. The company proposed a settlement including:
An additional paid holiday, increased medical coverage, the right of the
practicing Moslem community to be absent from work on two high holy days, an improved
discipline procedure and a 33-cent increase.
On Nov. 23 the Local 683 membership at OEM discussed the contract offer
and gave it their approval, recognizing the victory won over the 12-hour, 365-day scheme
originally proposed by the company.
The UE negotiating committee consisted of Melanie Forget, Mary Simpson,
Nancy Mayer, Kadhum Al-Tamini, Cheryl Taylor, Isabelle Laurie and Melody Robison,
assisted by Pres. Drylie and District Pres. Lambiase.