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Local 610 Stops Givebacks, Wins Gains in Tough Negotiations

01 July, 2016

After a tough round of negotiations, UE Local 610 members on May 4 approved a new three-year agreement with their employer, Wabtec.  Wages will increase 50 cents each year, and there is a slight increase in the night shift differential, from 85 cents to 90 cents. For workers at the rubber plant in Greensburg, the union won an increase in the set-up rate from $17.84 to $18, before the general wage increases were added.

The most contentious issues in negotiations were overtime pay, mandatory overtime, shift schedules and drug testing. The union stopped the company’s attempt to eliminate language requiring time-and-a-half after eight hours in any workday. The union also prevented the company from adding mandatory overtime language, and stopped changes to the shift schedule. The union eventually agreed to a drug testing policy that will go into effect in November, but it is “a far cry from what the company was proposing, and definitely eliminating random drug testing,” says UE International Representative Marion Washington, who assisted the local in negotiations. A worker’s first two positive tests will send him or her into rehabilitation.

On healthcare, the company wanted to move everyone into a 70-30 plan, eliminating the 80-20 plan in which most members were enrolled. The union managed to keep the 80-20 plan and make some improvements to the 70-30. There will be no increase in employee contributions to the 80-20 plan in the first year, and small increases in the second and third years. On the 70-30 plan there are some slight increases in contributions, but also improvements in coverage.

For those workers still covered by the defined benefit pension plan, the company wanted to  freeze the plan. The union fought back and stopped that. Newer employees are covered by a 401(k) plan.

Wage increases were also a big fight. The company started offering 10 cents, slowly moving to 16 cents and then 26 cents. The union didn’t get the company to 50 cents per year until three days after the old contract expired, around midnight, after the corporate CEO had joined the negotiating table.

There are improvements in the severance allowance formula. This became an issue because just before negotiations, the company had announced that it would move some work from Wilmerding to Mexico. As a result, the union pushed for severance improvements, and also got the company to provide a letter stating that it has no intention of moving work to Mexico at this time.

The new contact improves the allowance for safety shoes to provide up to $450 over the term of the contract, and as much as $300 in a single year. Previously the allowance was $150 over the term of the agreement. The hearing aid allowance was increased to $6,000 over the life of the agreement. The parties negotiated and reached mutual agreement on some realignment of sections of the main Wilmerding plant.

The contract also improves the language on union leaders getting permission to leave work on union business. This has been a big issue of contention in the past, and the union has successfully fought the firing of union officers over this issue.

RALLY AROUND THE FLAGPOLE

President Antwon Gibson says membership support was the union’s strength.  “We had a plan to get word back to the plant every day, gathering at the flagpole in the mornings. For about eight weeks prior to and during negotiations, once a week we all wear our union shirts or orange inmate shirts, and we march to the flagpole in front of the corporate building, say the pledge of allegiance, and show the company we’re united.”

Gibson adds, “Once we got to bargaining table we had members wear union shirts and orange shirts the whole time, and march out to the flagpole. We had people in the shop getting back reports on negotiations.  In the midst of negotiations we had a membership meeting that was a turning point for negotiations. We got people fired up about the issues that the company was proposing. That led to a turn for the better in negotiations, for us. From that moment, everyone was on board, all the membership, and we were back and forth to keep the members informed and fired up.”

The new contract will expire May 1, 2019. Local 610 is one of UE’s oldest locals. Its members manufacture airbrake systems for the railroad industry.

The union bargaining committee consisted of President Antwon Gibson, Business Agent Jim Naser, Vice President Ray Shash, Chief Steward Simeon DiFlorio, Assistant Chief Steward Dan Adams, Salary Divisional Steward Jim Chandler, and Rubber Plant Divisional Steward Ian Glasgow. They were assisted by International Rep. Marion Washington