Members of UE Local 1161 made very significant gains in their new two-year contract with Spartek. Following a spirited contract campaign, the agreement was overwhelmingly ratified on November 30.
All workers will see general wage increases of 65 cents in the first year and 55 cents in the second year. In addition, a number of job classifications have been upgraded, some recently-established jobs have been slotted into classifications that will result in additional wage increases, and both the second and third shifts will receive 10 cents more on their shift premiums. The bonus for good attendance, handed out every six months, will go up by five cents an hour, although the eligibility rules have been somewhat tightened.
Average wages will go up well over 10 percent over the two-year contract.
These are unprecedented wage increases at Spartek, which has historically been a fairly high-turnover, low-wage shop, in no small part because much of the work has been done by hand, preparing plastic items for discount retailers. However, the company has begun adding automated lines to the plant, meaning that the company needs to attract and keep skilled labor and the company has increased revenues.
Local 1161 members decided that now was the time to fight to substantially improve their compensation, especially with unemployment in the area low and the company having difficulty retaining new hires.
Members showed good support for the union bargaining committee throughout negotiations, filling out surveys, wearing buttons, stickers and UE shirts on a daily basis, attending a plant-gate meeting at the start of the last week of negotiations, and then holding an impromptu lunchtime rally outside the offices while the union committee was in bargaining on the final day. UE members from nearby Locals 1107 and 1121 joined the plant-gate meeting in solidarity.
Importantly, a good portion of the more recent hires who had not yet joined the union (Wisconsin is a right-to-freeload state) signed membership cards and began paying their dues in the lead-up to bargaining.
In addition to the solid wage gains, members fought for and won good improvements to their benefits. Workers will now be eligible for their second week of vacation after two years rather than three, for their third week after six years rather than seven, and for their fourth week after 12 years rather than 15. All workers will be allowed two unpaid call-in days for the first time (not to be charged under the attendance program nor counted against the good attendance bonus) and many will be allowed to use an additional vacation day as a paid call-in day.
Current health insurance plans will continue at close to the current premium co-pays for another year. Costs for the second year are not yet fixed but the contract will now guarantee that bargaining unit members will have the same costs and coverages as the office personnel. Short term disability is increasing by $35 to $225 per week and will last for 12 weeks rather than the previous 11 weeks. Life insurance is doubled from $10,000 to $20,000. Eligibility periods for a number of benefits were shortened.
The members also made progress on several language items in the contract including in the areas of overtime pay, temporary transfers, and job postings. The union will have up to five paid hours a month for grievance investigations for the first time and union orientation for new hires will now be regularly scheduled and last 15 minutes instead of 10 minutes. The company also agreed to provide fans to address extreme temperatures in some areas of the plant.
Local 1161 President Sharry Niedfeldt said “this is the best contract we have gotten in the 37 years I have worked at Spartek.” She thanked the members for all of their activity at the plant, saying “without their support, we can’t do a thing.”
Bargaining committee member and Local 1161 Secretary Becky Fernholz enthused “this was my first damn rodeo and it was a good one.”
Local 1161 Vice-President Andrea DeRouchie joined Niedfeldt and Fernholz on the union negotiation committee. They were assisted by UE Western Region President Carl Rosen. UE Local 1107 Chief Steward Mike Bluell and UE Field Organizer Jason Whisler also aided the contract fight.