Contract talks continue

Contract talks continue
Date June 01, 2004
Section(s) Local News

By PETER HUSSMANN
Editor

Collective bargaining employees at Maytag reported to work today after company and union officials agreed to extend the current three-year contract by 24 hours.

The current contract expired at 12:01 a.m. today but was extended after talks continued throughout the Memorial Day weekend.

Maytag spokeswoman Lynn Dragomier said this morning that an agreement had not been reached but talks are continuing.

“The status is that the contract has been extended by 24 hours and discussions are being held today,” she said. “The parties negotiated all weekend and are on-going today.”

Dragomier said that Maytag union contract employees whose shifts begin at 11 p.m. tonight will report to work as scheduled, but the status of those who are scheduled to report to work on the 7 a.m. shift Wednesday is not yet known.

A union meeting has been tentatively set for Wednesday afternoon at the Newton Senior High School. Union members said it would either be to inform members about a tentative contract or discuss how to proceed without an agreement.

UAW Local 997 represents about 1,600 workers who manufacture clothes washers and dryers. Another 1,000 workers are currently on layoff, have recall status and remain part of the local bargaining unit. There are also approximately 2,000 retirees covered under the terms of the contract.

Negotiations began earlier this spring between the UAW Local 997 and the company and have continued for several weeks.

UAW local members voted to authorize a strike several weeks ago, which gave union officials authority to call a strike if they determined talks had broken down and no agreement could be reached.

Anxious workers heard few details about the progress of the talks. Company and union officials agreed not to release details of the negotiations until an agreement was reached.

Newton Mayor Chaz Allen attempted to squelch at least one rumor connected to the contract talks. Word began circulating in the community late last week that Maytag had contacted the mayor and told him the company was moving. Allen said the information was posted in a Web site chat room but that there is no validity to the claim.

“I haven’t spoken with anyone,” he said today.

Newton workers have been under increasing pressure to improve productivity.

As recently as two week ago, Maytag’s chief executive Ralph Hake told shareholders at the company’s annual meeting that the Newton plant is “one of the highest-cost plants we have, and we need to address that.”

He said the plant must cut costs and improve its safety and quality record before it will be considered for new production lines.

The company has used similar tactics to win union concessions in other manufacturing plants including a dishwasher plant in Jackson, Tenn., and a Hoover vacuum cleaner manufacturing plant in Canton, Ohio.

At the Hoover plant, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers agreed to pay more for their health insurance and committed future retirees to do the same.

Union officials said they took no losses on wages, pensions, vacations or paid holidays.

The contract guaranteed a certain number of jobs and outlined financial penalties if job numbers fell below the minimum.

Union officials said the agreement through June 2008 gives them time to improve production and keep the company from closing the plant.

Hake has said other plants should look at Canton as a model for preserving jobs.

He has said global competition and cheap foreign labor are making competing in the appliance industry increasingly difficult.

After biting criticism for closing a Galesburg, Ill., refrigerator plant and moving hundreds of jobs to a new Mexico plant, Hake said 96 percent of Maytag’s employment is still based in the United States.

“That’s not an advantage for Maytag,” he said.

Mexican workers are paid a fraction of the hourly wages earned by union-represented workers in the United States.

In April, Maytag announced its latest round of layoffs — 110 production workers. The company said it was due to low demand for laundry equipment manufactured at Newton. About two months earlier 170 workers had been laid off.

The current work force of 1,600 is considerably lower than the 2,600 workers employed in Newton in the mid 1990s.

The job losses have unsettled this central Iowa town of 15,600, which has a significant portion of its economy centered around Maytag, the nation’s third-largest home appliance maker.

The company, which employs 20,000 salaried and hourly workers worldwide, maintains its corporate headquarters in Newton in addition to the manufacturing plants.

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One Response to “Contract talks continue”

  1. Contract talks continue : Today Topics Says:

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