Talks to resume Wednesday

Talks to resume Wednesday
 
Date June 18, 2004
Section(s) Local News
   
 
By DAVID PITT

Associated Press Writer

Maytag Corp. and the United Auto Workers agreed Friday to resume negotiations toward a new contract covering 1,525 production workers in Newton.

A joint announcement said the two sides will meet Wednesday.

They last met June 10, the day UAW Local 997 workers went on strike at the company’s flagship laundry products plants.

Dennis Williams, regional director for the UAW in Des Plaines, Ill., said a return to work will be assessed after each negotiating session.

“We have no intent of pulling the picket signs at this time,” he said.

Maytag spokeswoman Lynne Dragomier wouldn’t say which side requested the return to the bargaining table.

“Both sides agreed that this is the right time,” she said.

Union officials said the key issues include health care costs, job security and retirement benefits.

“We decided that we were going to get back to the bargaining table and see what our differences were,” Williams said. “We have never walked away from the table saying we weren’t going to get back together.”

The previous contract expired at midnight May 31, but both sides worked several days past the deadline.

Maytag CEO Ralph Hake has said that production costs at the Newton plants are too high, partially due to the benefits workers and retirees receive. The contract also affects 1,400 retirees and 350 surviving spouses.

The company claimed in a full-page advertisement in the Newton Daily News on June 12 that it had offered workers wage increases and improved life and accident insurance benefits.

The company also sought increased worker contributions to the health insurance package, something union officials said they could not accept.

“We can’t keep taking the burden of health care and different things on the backs of workers,” Williams said. “This is a national crisis and our government ought to step in and start taking care of health care.”

Workers have worried that the Newton jobs could be moved to non-union plants or to Mexico, where Maytag has parts plants and a new refrigerator factory.

“It’s always a concern whether or not we’re going to maintain jobs in all of our facilities,” Williams said.

But, he said, the union cannot allow companies to expect workers to bear a higher burden of increasing health care costs.

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 a day to ratify a contract, he said.

The announcement that talks would resume was made shortly after noon on Friday and soon swept through the community.

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