UE Local 1135 ratified a new three-year agreement with its new employer, Stryten Energy (members were formerly employed by Tulip Corp), on November 10, 2022. Local 1135 members manufacture lead acid batteries used in cars, boats and submarines.
Stryten, a Georgia-based company with no prior union presence, attempted to pressure Local 1135 members into agreeing to an extension and new contract which would have included substantial increases for new hires without rewarding members who have put in their time. Members stuck together fought back, signed up over a 100 employees on a petition demanding real wage increases for all, and marched it on their boss.
Local 1135 members marching on the boss.
The result was a new contract which includes substantial improvements to wages, benefits, and contract language. First-year increases range from $1.75 to $3.25, which translates into percentage increases of between 5.3 and 22.8 percent depending upon job classification, with the lowest-paid members seeing the highest wage gains. The starting rate for new hires is now $17.49 — up from just $14.24. In the second and third year, all bargaining unit members will receive a $0.75 increase to their base wage. In addition, the local won substantial increases to premium pay. The second shift premium, which had previously been only $0.30 per hour, has now risen to $0.75, and will be $1.15 by the final year of the contract. Premiums for third shift workers and those working the second shift of a 12-hour day, previously $0.30 and $0.50 respectively, will both rise to $1.00 an hour. Tool room shift premiums will rise by $0.20 an hour over the duration of the agreement.
Major improvements were also made on benefits. Local 1135 previously only had fixed-dollar amounts contributed by the employer to health insurance premiums, with the employee responsible for all costs beyond this. The local was able to codify a 60/40 split on premium costs into the contract, which will lead to considerable savings for members and limit cost escalation over the course of the agreement. In addition, a health savings account with an employer contribution of $500 for single and $1,000 for family was added to the high-deductible health plan option for the first time. The employer will also pay 50 percent of the cost towards dental coverage. Finally, the 401(k) match was improved from 60 percent to 65 percent of contributions on the first five percent of salary.
Vice President James Grant thanked Local 1135 members “for staying united and getting involved through this long process. When management tried to divide us we stayed united and kept our eye on the prize, a fair contract that provided the largest wage gains we have seen in years, improvements on healthcare, 401(k), and protections for our union rights.”
Members won significant language improvements across several areas. Two additional floating holidays were added to the contract, and 12-hour employees will receive a full 12 hours of holiday pay. The safety glasses allowance was increased from $100 to $150 and the safety shoe allowance from $150 to $175. The employer will no longer be able to change the start time of bargaining unit members without notice. Employees will be given notice of their right to union representation prior to investigatory meetings or issuance of discipline. Improvements were also made to language on union leave, overtime, seniority, and bereavement leave.
Skilled trades rep Santy Hong said, “I’m proud of our union members and the dedication of our board, and all the people who showed up and joined our union for the first time today to make this a truly historic victory.”
The Local 1135 negotiating committee consisted of President Malik Grant, Secretary-Treasurer Alicia Black, Vice President James Grant, Skilled Trades Rep. Santy Hong, Chief Steward Lashan Winters, and Susan Lee. They were assisted by Field Organizer Sean Fulkerson.