Laid off workers called back

Laid off workers called back to work
 
Date June 22, 2004
Section(s) Local News
   
 
By PETER HUSSMANN

Editor

Several hundred Maytag production workers currently on layoff are expected to temporarily report to work on Wednesday after receiving call-back letters from the company.

Approximately 450 of the 700 workers currently on layoff received certified letters from Maytag asking that they exercise their call-back rights. The workers met with union officials on Monday to discuss the situation.

Workers attending the meeting said they were told to report to work early Wednesday morning, complete some paperwork and then later walk out of the plant to join striking workers on the picket line.

Those on layoff currently receive unemployment benefits. If they accept the recall notice and then go out on strike, the workers would lose unemployment coverage and then receive strike pay benefits from the union, a reduction of about $55 a week. They would become eligible for health insurance coverage being offered to striking workers.

The first strike pay benefits of $200 a week are being distributed Wednesday and Thursday.

More than 1,500 production workers walked off the job on June 10, 10 days after the current contract expired, after contract negotiations broke apart.

Union and Maytag management officials agreed to meet with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Chicago beginning this evening in an effort to jump start negotiation talks, which broke down in large part due to differences on medical coverage issues.

In a full-page advertisement in the Daily News on June 12, Maytag claimed production workers would continue “to enjoy the highest wage and benefits package within the Maytag organization.”

The union posted a response to the advertisement on its Web page in an attempt to “clarify a few points that have recently been presented by the Maytag Corporation in the Newton Daily News advertisement.”

The statement said the union attempted to “find a balance” with the company on a reasonable wage and benefit package for workers at the same time addressing the company’s concerns over rising health care costs. However, under the company’s last proposal, “there is no real wage increase” as stated in the ad.

“The ‘lump sum’ payments the company is calling a ‘wage increase’ would simply be devoured if the healthcare plan being proposed by the company is implemented,” the statement on the Web page said.

The union statement goes on to note that workers have been cognizant of the health care costs issue for more than 20 years. Since 1980, the statement says, union members “have agreed to divert a large portion of our Cost of Living Allowance toward benefit costs. For over 20 years we have diverted COLA back to the company to the sum of $2.58 an hour to offset rising benefit costs. This is over $103 a week, $447 a month, $5,300 a year.”

The statement also notes the healthcare plan being proposed would raise a family’s deductible several hundred dollars a year.

“It would allow for a worker’s out-of-pocket medical expenses to be as high as $4,000, not including the co-pays for every doctor visit,” the response says. “Along with these increases, the company still wants to retain our $5,300 COLA diversion.”

The union statement went on to note the proposed contract would put a freeze on all incentive based and day work pay rates in the factory for the next three years.

“This pay freeze would come on the heels of a marked raise in the work levels on individual job operators in the factory,” the statement said.

In regard to the pension plan, the union says the company offered only minimal increases for some future retirees, but wanted to freeze and prorate other pension options.

“However, these negligible increases that have been offered will also disappear when coupled with increased healthcare costs,” the statement said. “They proposed a 401(k) plan, but failed to offer a matching contribution to every worker.”

While Maytag has repeatedly said the Newton unit is its highest cost facility, the union counters by stating the local members are the “most productive and profitable unit in Maytag‘s entire manufacturing organization.”

The union goes on to state that workers have partnered with the company in an effort to reduce costs.

“Through all levels with the manufacturing management team, we’ve helped implement Lean Sigma principles and the ISO 9000 quality program, improving quality, safety and waste reduction at the Newton plants.

“UAW Local 997 is a progressive union and has always worked hard to contribute to making Maytag the industry leader, therefore making Newton and its surrounding communities economically viable. No community can build trust or survive on year-to-year commitments between business and labor. Both parties must demonstrate honor and respect for the partnership. Without one party the other doesn’t exist. We stand in support of this partnership so that we may all be successful; the company, its workers and the larger community which is affected by the partnership’s actions.”

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