Union president calls for calm

Date June 11, 2004
Section(s) Local News
   
 
By JOHN JENNINGS

NDN Staff Writer

Following the breakdown of negotiations with Maytag Corporation’s contract talks shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday, United Auto Workers Local 997 members were on the picket lines at Maytag Plant 2 less than an hour later.

With tensions running high, and many union members unsure of the details of the negotiations, UAW Local 997 President Pat Teed was calling for calm and remained optimistic that union differences with the company will be resolved.

“The talks were very gentlemanly, and they have told us we can resume the talks at any time,” Teed said.

He would not give specifics of the sticking points of the negotiations but would say there were three key issues. Still, he said he had confidence that a resolution could be reached.

“The glass is always half full,” Teed said. “The entire community depends on Maytag, not to discredit the importance of any of the other businesses in Newton. We all want a quick resolution to this.”

Teed said he understood that there is a lot of confusion among union members and throughout the community.

“I went through the ’71 strike, and you’re a worker and you want to work. You’re kind of numb,” Teed said.

A meeting of union membership has been scheduled for 2:45 this afternoon, and Teed said he would explain the negotiation process at the meeting and how it got to this point.

Teed, who noted his 35th year at Maytag on Thursday, said he still has confidence that Maytag wants to do the right thing.

“There is a lot of history of this union in Newton, and a lot of history behind Maytag as well. I believe in my heart that this company wants to be a good corporate citizen.”

Maytag negotiators said they, too, were disappointed a successful conclusion to the negotiations was not reached.

“We are disappointed to be unable to reach an agreement with the UAW,” said Mark Krivoruchka, senior vice president of human resources. “Both parties worked late into the evening on Wednesday in an attempt to reach an accord. It is unfortunate that Newton Laundry employees have not been given an opportunity to vote and determine their future with Maytag.”

Worker benefits, Krivoruchka said, remain the sticking point.

“Newton Laundry Products continues to maintain a significantly higher cost structure than other Maytag plants because of its high benefits costs, which needs to be addressed in order for the plant to be competitive in today’s marketplace,” he said.

Maytag said it has developed a contingency plant to meet customer orders for products manufactured at Newton. Production at its three other laundry plants continues. Maytag officials said production of washer and dryer lines produced in Newton are not currently planned at any of the other Maytag plants.

The 1,525 production workers at Maytag Corp.’s Newton washer and dryer plants walked out of the Maytag complex at 4 p.m. Thursday and immediately set up picket lines at about a dozen entrances to the company’s two primary locations, including the headquarter’s location.

In addition to the workers, the contract also affects 700 laid off workers with recall rights, 1,400 retirees and 350 surviving retiree spouses.

The previous UAW-Maytag contract expired on June 1, but the parties agreed to extend the contract to 10 p.m. June 9 and continue negotiations. International union representatives participated in the talks and commented on the situation today.

“We went the extra mile and more to reach a new agreement without a strike. We agreed to a contract extension, and even after that extension expired last night we stayed at the bargaining table and tried to resolve our differences on health care and retirement issues,” UAW Region 4 Director Dennis Williams said in a released statement.

“The situation at Maytag is yet one more example of how the United States’ broken health care system is placing enormous strains on the collective bargaining process — and hurting both companies and working families,” Williams said, “The simple fact is we can’t solve the health care cost crisis at the bargaining table. It’s a national problem that demands a national solution.

“We understand the importance of Maytag to the entire Newton community,” Williams continued. “And we are ready and willing to resume negotiations at any time. No one ever wants a strike, and we’re prepared to work around the clock to negotiate a fair and equitable new contract for the hard-working men and women who’ve built Maytag‘s outstanding reputation for quality and dependability.”

Striking workers said they had been preparing for months for the strike. Many families have delayed large purchases, stocked up on groceries and saved as much money as possible.

Chris Johnson, a quality control process specialist, said the union had arranged strike preparation classes a couple of months ago, telling workers how to stretch their household budgets and which bills to pay first.

At one picket site outside a main entrance to a production area, 18 workers and two children carried white signs with blue lettering that read: “UAW on strike: Unfair labor practice.”

Dan Ingle, one of the strikers, said he appreciated the cars going by honking their horns, which showed the community was behind them.

“It makes me feel like we’re all sticking together,” he said.

Maytag employee Greg Christy said many workers, anxious from the drawn out negotiations, expressed relief about the strike.

“We have a direction. We know where we’re going now,” he said.

Teed said union members will receive strike pay. The $200 a week is a fraction of what they normally would make. Their health insurance will be paid by the UAW, Teed said.

The last big strike in Newton was in 1971, when workers were out for five months. Workers staged a one-day strike in 1974, essentially waiting one day to ratify a contract, he said.

The Associated Press, NDN Staff Writer Andy Karr and NDN Editor Peter Hussmann contributed to this story.

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