2/24/08

Steelworkers issue strike notice

Union workers at Elliott Co. in Jeannette will vote today on a three-year contract offer with the understanding they will walk off the job if it is rejected. "They all understand we will go on strike" if the contract proposal isn't approved, Mark Zyvith, president of the production and maintenance unit of the United Steelworkers Local 1145, said Saturday after a membership meeting to explain details of the contract. If approved, the contract would take effect Monday, Zyvith said.

The union membership, consisting of about 275 production and maintenance workers and more than 20 office and clerical employees, had previously given the USW Local 1145 authorization to call a strike, Zyvith said. The strike would be called after the union gives the company a 48-hour notice that workers will walk off their jobs, Zyvith said.

Union officials had recommended acceptance of the deal to about 200 employees who attended yesterday's meeting, Zyvith said. He declined to predict the outcome of today's vote.

"It's going to affect a lot of people differently," Zyvith said.

The company makes industrial turbines and compressors that are used in the petrochemical industry.

"In lieu of withholding services (a strike), it was the best offer that was there," said Joseph Mochar, president of USW Local 1145, after yesterday's membership meeting at the Jeannette American Legion Post.

"We've put it in the membership's hands," Mochar said.

Negotiators for the union and the company reached a tentative contract agreement Friday, just hours before the company intended to unilaterally implement the terms of its last contract offer, beginning yesterday morning. Union officials had initially called for a meeting yesterday to decide whether to report to work under terms of the company's offer, but Elliott withdrew that plan when the tentative agreement was reached, Mochar said.

Brian Lapp, director of human resources for Elliott Co., could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The contract proposal will boost wages 4 percent the first year, followed by annual increases of 3 percent each of the following two years. The workers have not had a wage hike since their contract expired in June 2004.

The proposal would give workers a $1,100 signing bonus if they approve the deal.

The cost of the health care coverage had been a stumbling block in the negotiations. Workers in January essentially rejected the company's proposal by deciding not to put it to a vote.

Under the proposal, employees would pay a percentage of the monthly health insurance premium. Lapp had said the previous coverage did not require employees to pay part of the premiums. Employees would have to pay $20 a week for family health care coverage under the tentative agreement.

The company agreed to give some employees retiring in the first two years of the agreement health care coverage until they are eligible for Medicare at age 65, Mochar said. Workers retiring at age 58 would pay half the cost of the insurance premium, while those leaving at age 60 would have free coverage, Mochar said.

"Without going on strike, this proposal is the best we can do," said Jim Cochran, 51, of Sewickley Township, who has worked at the plant for 34 years.

Both Cochran and his buddy, Tim Wilkinson, 52, of Hempfield said they did not know whether it will be approved. They pointed out that while their wages have been frozen since 2004, the cost of living has risen.

"We like working for this company. We've been unbelievably busy. We have millions of dollars of orders," Wilkinson said.

Production and maintenance workers are scheduled to vote from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the union hall on Lowry Avenue. Office and clerical workers will vote from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the union hall.

(pittsburghlive.com)

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