Local 1135 Stands Up to Company Threats; Wins Wage Increases for All Tulip Workers

January 27, 2008

Milwaukee

Members of Local 1135 at Tulip Corp. said “no” to a discriminatory and insulting “final offer” from the company, and called the company’s bluff when it tried to force acceptance of its offer by illegal threats. As a result, for the first time they forced the company to improve its final offer, and they achieved equal percentage raises for all workers.

Bargaining began on November 20 and was very tough. On December 13, members voted on the company’s final offer. The company offered different percentage raises for different groups of worker, with the lowest raises going to workers who were already the lowest paid. For workers in the lowest pay grades at this plastics plant, Tulip’s three-year wage offer was 2.55 percent the first year, 2 percent plus 10 cents in the second year, and 2.3 percent in the third year. For workers in the more skilled classifications, the company proposed better, but still inadequate wage increases of 2.7, 2.5 and 2.5 percent.

The bargaining committee recommended that members reject this offer, which is precisely what the members did – and by an overwhelming margin. Tulip workers organized into UE 15 years ago, but this was the first time the rank and file ever rejected a final company contract offer.

Company representatives returned to the bargaining table on December 17 – four days after the rejection vote. But they came to the table not with a better contract offer, but with threats. Management negotiators told the union committee that, unless the members ratified the company’s earlier offer by December 23, the company would implement that offer, but with two significant changes: it would eliminate holiday pay, and it would cease to provide health and dental insurance.

Through such threats are illegal, they were intended to scare workers into surrender. On December 21, the rank and file gave the company their answer, but it was not the one the company wanted. Members gathered outside the plant for a prayer vigil. As workers held signs comparing the company to Ebenezer Scrooge, a minister led them in praying that, like Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ story, Tulip management would see the error of its ways.

On December 26 the two sides met again, this time with a mediator present. The deadline for the company’s December 23 ultimatum had come and gone, and the members had called Tulip’s bluff. The company now made a new offer, in which it withdrew the threat to end holidays and insurance coverage, and agreed to equal percentage wage increases for all workers. The new three-year wage offer was 2.75, 2.5 and 2.5 percent. This provided the basis for an agreement, which was ratified by the members the next day.

Other improvements in the new agreement include 5 percent increases in the company’s match on the 401(k) plan in both the first and second years. The shift differential was increased by 5 cents in the first and second years. The pay progression for new hires to full rate, which had been three years, was shortened to one year. The local also negotiated a reduction in the deductible for the more expensive of the plant’s two health plans.

Local President Shirley Harrison, who’s been involved in the union since the organizing campaign in the early 1990s, is proud and pleased with the outcome of these negotiations. “For the first time, we sent a message to the company that we aren’t afraid to reject your offer. Before this, people always took whatever the company gave.

Shirley added, “It helped that we started preparing early, by home visiting members over the summer to get them ready and understanding that they had to stand up. When the company threatened us, the majority were not scared by those threats. The contract came out better than we expected and helps to strengthen the union. I want to thank Lynn, who did a terrific job and gave up her holidays to help us get this contract.”

In addition to Shirley Harrison, the Local 1135 bargaining committee consisted of Vice Pres. Rosie Grant, Chief Steward Terry Wolf, and Skilled Trades Representative Russ Parker. They were assisted by Field Organizer Lynn Swiertz.

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