UE Local 1021 members reached agreement on a new contract with their employer KRACO Enterprises on June 8, the day after the California primary election. The two-year includes hourly wage increases of 60 cents each year, improved job security language, retirement benefits, improved work schedules etc.
Bargaining was conducted at the plant and went fairly smoothly. The company’s initial proposal was for a 35 cent raise and did not include an attack on health benefits, which has become such a common feature of bargaining these days. But members felt they needed a substantial raise, and also wanted to improve their healthcare and lower costs.
The union did its own research on health plans available in the area, and proposed a new plan, a PPO, that would have lowered the company’s costs by $150,000 over two years with equivalent or better benefits. The union wanted those savings to be applied to wage increases. This health plan has received positive reviews from experts, but the company was reluctant to agree to it, offering the excuse that the company offering the plan is relatively new. The company also admitted that it is not in the habit of sharing cost savings with the workers.
Members took action in the shop to press their demand for a bigger pay raise. First they did a petition. Then the union purchased red union T-shirts and scheduled union shirt days every week. At least 90 percent of the members wore these shirts on the designated days. The company president, who likes to tour the shop and talk with the workers, was visibly nervous when the plant turned into a sea of red shirts.
Union members took a final action the day before the deadline set by the parties for completing negotiations. They sent a delegation of workers into the president’s office, demanding that he conclude negotiations the next day by agreeing to the union’s final offer. Out of a workforce of 50 employees, 25 to 30 went on the delegation to the president’s office. This time the boss was very nervous, apparently fearing that the workers were going to occupy his office. But the next day, the company agreed to the union’s proposal and the contract was settled. The last bargaining session took only 10 minutes.
While the company did not accept the union’s healthcare proposal, it did agree that the union and company will return to the bargaining table before the end of the year to consider alternate health plans, and the company agreed to share any resulting savings with the workers, 50-50.
In other gains, workers improved the just cause language in the contract. The company has offered a 401(k) retirement savings plan, but with no company match of employees’ contributions. The 401(k) plan was not part of the contract and very few people use it. The union succeeded in putting it into the contract, with the hope of adding an employer match and other improvements in the future.
Recently a worker has suffered a foot injury in the warehouse area, which led to an OSHA inspection. OSHA told the company that the aisles are too narrow, and that workers should have safety shoes. So in negotiations, the union added a new benefit, a safety shoe allowance of $75 per year.
The bargaining committee consisted of Javier Aguilar, Jose Orozco, and Granville Noel, assisted by Field Organizer Fernando Ramirez.
UE members at KRACO have a proud history behind them. Workers there, mostly Latino, began organizing in the late 1970s, but faced stiff resistance from the company. In May 1979 they walked out in what proved to be one of the most important strikes in the Los Angeles area in that period. The company hired armed thugs to physically attack the pickets, and bought the support of the Compton police by giving them a helicopter. The cops arrested strikers, but the union won support of the community by marching on city hall to demand an end to police violence and that KRACO hire more black workers from the community in which it operated. After the company thugs shot a striker, the bad publicity forced the company to settle.
Over the past 36 years KRACO went through changes of ownership and downsizing. In 2014, after bringing in many new workers, the company tried to get the union decertified. But the union prevailed and since then, younger workers have stepped up into the leadership. Earlier this year, the local voted to endorse Bernie Sanders for president, and members campaigned for Sanders – an indication of the revived activism in this shop.