On February 8, members of Local 243 voted 187 to 5 to ratify a new three-year contract that increases wages and the pension, and maintains the existing health insurance. Maintaining the medical benefits with no increase in costs to workers was one of the most important elements of the agreement, and members were extremely pleased about it. “We’re ecstatic our medical is unchanged,” 27-year employee Gina King told the New Haven Independent.
The new contract was bargained a month before the old agreement was set to expire, and the settlement was reached in just one day of bargaining, although some off-the-record discussions occurred leading up to negotiations. Local 243 members work at Sargent Manufacturing/Assa Abloy, where they manufacture high-end locks, door closures and security systems. It’s one of the oldest locals in UE, and members celebrated the union’s 75th anniversary in 2014.
On wages, members each receive a $1,500 ratification bonus. In the second year wages increase by 3 percent, and by 2 percent in the third year.
The new agreement increases the pension multiplier by $2, to $40, which is multiplied by the retiring worker’s years of service to determine the weekly benefit.
Only one area of contract language is changed in the new agreement, regarding temporary employees. The new improved language says that after 180 days of employment, all temporary employees will become regular full time Sargent employees.
Ray Pompano, who recently stepped down as president of Local 243 after 31 years, and is now president of the UE Northeast Region, says, “The company didn’t want to take us on. They knew we weren’t going to give in on healthcare.”
Wayne Morrison, the local’s new president and previously chief steward for many years, said, “I think what happened was, when we had our election and we had a rank-and-file membership meeting where we take recommendations from the floor about contract proposals, and the officers got sworn in before the whole rank and file. It was the changing of the guard, and we had 98 percent of our people show up for that. We had some news coverage there, the New Haven Independent ran a nice article the next day. And I think the message got back to the company, I had a few quotes in there. It was our medical, that’s our sacred cow, and the members were willing to go to the wall for that.”
The company, said Morrison, “did great last year, last year was probably one of their top years ever, and this year I think they’re headed for another record setter.” He says he thinks the company wanted to make sure there would be no interruptions of work this year. “They didn’t want a fight.”
The human resources director and asked if the union committee could meet earlier than usual. The company said it wanted to do things differently this year, skip the weeks of presentations and back-and-forth, and make a serious offer, said Morrison. “It kind of knocked us out of our seats,” that the company didn’t come after the medical plan. The union counter-proposed on wages and fought to make the temps regular employees with benefits in six months. “They took it. We were surprised at that too.”
“When I was able to stand up in front of the members and tell them, ‘They didn’t touch your medical,’ they were applauding,” Morrison continued. “And then when I told them, ‘Not only did they not touch it, but you won’t pay one brown penny more for the next three years,’ they fell off their chairs. There was a big round of applause, people’s mouths dropped open. When they heard the rest of the agreement, they were ecstatic.”
“I felt great,” said the local president, “because going into my first contract negotiations as president, I was nervous. But when they heard the results, the people were blown away.”
“This is a historic agreement between Sargent and Local 243,” said UE Director of Organization Gene Elk, who as an international rep. worked with the local on its two previous rounds of bargaining. “It’s a tribute to the hard work of union members in previous negotiations, who have forcefully communicated to the company, ‘Keep your hands off our medical!’”
The union bargaining committee consisted of President Wayne Morrison, Chief Steward Chris Fiorentino, Recording Secretary Anna Tondalo, Northeast Region President Ray Pompano, Executive Board Members John Cronan, Mitch Cannon, Butch Santora, and bargaining committee member Rich Guarino. They were assisted by Director of Organization Gene Elk and Field Organizer Barbara Resnick.