When management at Fairbanks Scales first spoke with UE Local 234 leaders about negotiations this fall, they indicated that they wanted them to be “quick and speedy.” They learned, however, that proposing major concessions is not the way to get quick and speedy negotiations from UE members. After an eight-day strike, management agreed instead to a contract that contains solid wage increases, controls on health insurance premiums, and significant language improvements.
After a productive first session, in which the local won a number of language changes, the company proposed major concessions to healthcare and vacation on the second session. Fairbanks wanted an increase of $200 per month on the family health insurance, and to change the vacation system from an awarded system based on years of service to an accrual system based on hours worked.
Despite repeated warnings from the UE negotiating committee that Local 234 members would not accept such draconian changes, management continued to insist on givebacks, coupled with a meagre wage proposal. On the night of October 30th, with the contract about to expire, UE members meeting together in an American Legion Hall basement voted to strike if management did not come up with a fair settlement during a 13-hour contract extension the next day.
The Local 234 negotiating committee, meeting with the company and a mediator, offered a reasonable package designed to settle the contract. In a sign of profound disrespect, management kept them waiting all day, only to reject the offer. The elected strike committee — which, like the negotiating committee, was majority women — organized workers to walk off the job in a group to come to negotiations. The union offered one last time to settle, and when that was rejected, began making plans to set up picket lines at 5am the next morning.
For over a week, the local maintained 24-hour picket lines. Despite management’s aggressive behavior, backed up by local police, the strikers turned away all but one truck, which managed to cross the line when police threatened to arrest UE members holding the picket line.
Support for the strikers poured in from UE locals, other unions, and community members who appreciate the role of UE Local 234 in protecting good jobs in the region since 1942.
After a week of no production, the company was ready to settle. Wages will increase eight percent over the three-year contract, and the increase in weekly insurance premiums is capped to $10 per year, with smaller increase caps for individual plans. Stewards’ ability to investigate and handle grievances on the clock was vastly expanded, with stewards now being able to spend up to five hours on the clock per grievance. Previously, the company had limited grievance-handling time to a total dollar amount of wages per year.
UE members also won an extra sick day, a new vision plan, an increase in the reimbursement for a routine eye exam from $100 to $140, and improved safety glass reimbursement.
UE members also won the removal or reversal of several demeaning company policies. A widely hated attendance policy was scrapped, with both parties committing to negotiate a new one. For unpaid medical leave, it is now the company’s responsibility to contact the worker to initiate the process, instead of the worker’s. The local also added gender identity to the list of protections in the contract’s non-discrimination clause, and all gender-specific pronouns in the contract were changed to gender-neutral ones.
The negotiating committee consisted of President Polly Scott, Vice President Atti Seguin, Chief Steward Tonya Brown, and Divisional Stewards Ryan MacDonald and Michellè Hagman. They were assisted by International Rep. Chad McGinnis and Field Organizer Abbie Curtis.