By a 2 to 1 margin, with 106 members in attendance, Local 770 voted to ratify a four-year contract with Hendrickson Truck Suspension that breaks the two-tier wage system the company had imposed in the previous round of negotiations. While it will take 10 years for a new hire to reach top scale, the new agreement provides a pathway to the top for all employees. Ten workers were restored immediately to top wage; these members had been laid off in 2009 and later recalled at second-tier wages, which had cut their pay by $3.57 an hour.
Second tier members will receive $2.62 in wage increases over the term of the contract. Their raises will, over four years, eliminate two-thirds of the wage gap between the first and second tiers, paving the way for complete elimination of the tiers in the next agreement. Over the four years of this agreement members at top wage rates will receive 30 cents in hourly raises plus a $750 lump sum in the third year.
“We have made real progress in bargaining. Some improvements in vacation, work rules and attendance on top of ending the two tiers made this a victory, said Local President Derk Derck. “Management was fighting hard to end the lump sum payout on our pension, but we stopped them” he added.
The company got tiers into the contract in 2010 negotiations, by threatening to close the Kendallville operation unless union members accepted a two-tiered wage and pension structure. That contract was negotiated with limited membership involvement. It resulted in hourly wage differences of as much as $3.39 between workers doing the same job.
More than 130 members of Local 770 work at the Hendrickson facility fabricating and assembling Class 8 heavy truck suspension systems. Their products are found in DTNA, Mack, Volvo, Kenworth, Peterbilt and other heavy equipment. The company recently expanded the Kendallville operation, and members felt this was a good time to fight to end the tiers.
The key to the union’s success in bargaining was member participation. Local 770 activists encouraged their fellow workers get involved. Morale and unity had been low because of the tier system, but active union members set out to turn discontent into action. They started with T-shirt days. “We had decent participation, but not everyone was wearing shirts at first”, said Jamie Clark, Local 770 secretary -treasurer and longtime union activist. “As we continued, more people got involved.” She added, “But as time went on, and then we started sticker days, we saw more people get involved”. On sticker days, activists and stewards in each of the two plants distributed the sticker of the day, supporting the union on a particular bargaining issue, to members at the start of the shift, and members wore them the rest of the workday.
As the contract campaign gained momentum, members planned additional on-the-job actions. They had ordered more T-shirts with the slogan “No Tiers” and encouraged workers to all wear the shirts on the same day. Then as the first day of bargaining approached, the first sticker day had majority participation. As time went on, even more workers joined the weekly sticker actions and by early December an overwhelming majority were taking part. The Local also ordered buttons.
“Management definitely noticed our efforts, they told us so” said Rod Moore, committee member.
At the membership meeting on Saturday, December 12 the bargaining committee updated members about the bargaining position of management, and members discussed the next steps. Members offered to carry burn barrels in their trucks to show management they were ready for picket duty. One member suggested that people stop talking to management.
A member recalled a previous contract fight many years ago when the union held bargaining update meetings right after the start of shift production meeting. Members liked this idea, and the bargaining committee suggested choosing a day in January to hold these meetings. But another member asked why it couldn’t be done on the coming Monday? This idea was popular, so the shop meetings were planned for Monday, just two days away.
“Management of course got the wrong idea, freaking out and started saying we were going on strike,” said Dan Weiling, bargaining committee member. “We made sure we talked to all of our Contract Support Committee members to get the right story out on the floor.”
The union called for an emergency membership meeting on January 9 to prepare for action should management and the union not reach agreement the contract expiration date, January 16.
In the first bargaining meeting of the New Year, management threw down their last and best offer. The union committee decided this offer, if improved in some areas, might be acceptable to conclude this round of the fight. So union negotiators withdrew several proposals and pushed the company to improve the monetary offer. On January 7 the committee achieved the breakthrough it needed to be able to recommend acceptance by the membership.
“We have a Union, we have to stay organized and fight for shop floor issues, that is how we will stay strong in the years to come” said Jacob Stroop, committee member and second tier worker. “The wage tiers divide us and now they are gone. The bosses at Hendrickson need to know that 10 years to the top is not good enough. In a couple years that will be our fight.” said Scott Zimmer, another committee member and second tier worker.
Improvements to the grievance procedure, job bidding, layoff notice, overtime rules, vacations, attendance policy, and safety gear are included in the new agreement. Language to limit management moving workers from work center to work center was strengthened. The union gained the ability to grieve substantial job changes, and non-union work was further limited. A new committee with union appointees is now charged with ensuring managements ‘reasonable expectations’ for production are fair and take into account fatigue, down time and ergonomics.
The Local 770 bargaining committee consided of President Derk Derck, Vice President Rod Moore, Secretary-Treasurer Jamie Clark, and committee persons Jacob Stroop, Dan Weiling and Scott Zimmer . They were assisted by UE Field Organizer J Burger.