Local 121 Contract Raises Pay, Thaws Out Frozen Pension

August 15, 2013

In late June the membership of UE Local 121 voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new five-year contract with Clendenin Brothers, Inc., a manufacturer of industrial fasteners including rivets, bolts and nails. The contract brought a first-year raise of 2.5 percent (retroactive to May 22) plus a $1,500 signing bonus. In the remaining four years of the contract, annual raises will be 3 percent. In addition, all general helpers, who constitute the majority of the newer members, received an immediate step increase, also retroactive to May 22. (Each step increase is worth an additional $1 to $2 in additional hourly pay.) The hiring rate was also increased, from $8 to $9.

The local also succeeded in unfreezing the defined benefit pension, which had been frozen since 2008. Members began accruing pension service credits effective May 22, 2013. This is a rare victory that few unions are ever able to achieve; once a defined benefit pension is frozen, it generally stays frozen. The company made several offers in negotiations to “buy out” the pension and end it permanently, but the union held firm. The company also agreed to contribute 3.75 percent of each worker’s annual salary to his/her 401(k) account. This is an increase from the 2.5 percent the company contributed in the final year of the old contract.

On medical insurance, the union successfully fought to keep the 90/10 plan that had been in place since 2010. The company had tried to replace it with an 80/10 plan. The union was also able to keep in place the employee contribution levels from the final year of the old contract.

Over recent years the company had been undermining the contract through unilateral changes in the company handbook, often in direct contradiction of the contract. For example the company handbook declared that employees are “at will” employees. The union made the company agree to remove that language from its handbook. The union also update the “no discrimination” language in the contract to add “marital status, disability, sexual orientation, military/veteran status” to the protected categories.

The company had also in recent years tried to turn section leaders into de factor supervisors. The union negotiated a clarification that lead persons are not supervisors and do not discipline other workers.

The union also negotiated language to establish quarterly labor relations meetings, to improve communications between the parties and address current issues. The first meeting is scheduled for September 11.

Rank-and-file members of Local 121 strongly supported the negotiating committee through the bargaining process, forming a support committee which conducted a pre-bargaining survey, passed out fliers, and kept discussion going in the plant.  Members wore UE buttons, stickers, and armbands and participated in "blue" color solidarity days.  The last week of negotiations, the plant was awash in a field of blue.

At the contract ratification meeting expressed their enthusiasm for the agreement. One member commented, "Man, with all of these positive things we got, I never expected Clendenin to go so easy on us." A member of the bargaining committee replied, "They weren't easy on us, we were hard on them." 

The bargaining committee included President Mike Williams, Vice President Greg Bass and Chief Shop Steward George Spring. They were assisted by UE Field Organizer Dennis Orton. Eastern Region President Deb Gornall also assisted the local in various ways, including steward training.

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