Strike Over
Four-year contract ratified by UAW members
Date July 02, 2004
Section(s) Local News
   
 
By ERIN HALLER-MORAIN

NDN Staff Writer

UAW Local 997 members approved a four-year labor contract with Maytag Corp. on Friday afternoon, putting an end to a strike that left plant workers on the picket lines for more than three weeks.

The 1,525 production workers, who make Atlantis, Neptune and Dependable Care washers and dryers, walked off the job June 10 after negotiations broke down. Talks resumed last week and a tentative agreement was announced Thursday.

The workers were to return to their jobs Tuesday. The summer shutdown, previously scheduled to begin Monday, has now been changed to Aug. 9-22, officials said.

Many union members are voicing their anger over a contract that they say is worse than the contract they were under before the strike.

“We’re not happy about this at all,” said Dianna Remp, who has put in 101/2 years with the company. “We have done that very thing that we said we weren’t going to” by taking a step back.

Rempp and other union members gathered at the Scoreboard Bar and Grill on the downtown square after Friday’s vote — and few had smiles on their faces.

“I’m not happy with the corporation for not thinking we’re important enough to keep the contract we had,” said Kyle VanZante. “I voted no and I haven’t heard of anyone that voted yes.

“But we’re a union,” he said.

“And will stand together,” added Rempp.

UAW Local 997 President Pat Teed lauded the solidarity of union members in approving the contract.

“Today the members ratified a new four-year agreement,” Teed said. “We had a lot of discussion, and the majority voted in favor of it.”

Teed would not release the specifics of the vote’s outcome but emphasized that the majority voted to accept the contract.

“We’ve got true solidarity out here,” Teed said. “And the community is right behind us.”

Teed suggested that the part of the difficulty Maytag and the union have experienced is due to problems on the national level.

“There is no job security in America,” he said. “I’ll be more confident after we vote Bush out in the fall. The American people are going to have to step up and do something.

“I’m happy it’s over.”

UAW international representative Dennis Walker called the agreement fair.

“The members told us they’re going to live with this agreement,” he said. “It’s a fair agreement we can live with.”

Walker highlighted the new 401(k) plan as a positive benefit in the new contract.

“It’s new to us, and it’s one of those things that builds up over time,” Walker explained. “It’s a good program.”

“It seems to us that health care has become the No. 1 issue in America,” Walker said. “If they keep raising the cost of health care, no one is going to be able to afford to pay it.”

“If they went the other way, I would have supported them,” Walker said. “But I think they made the right choice.”

Walker acknowledged the company’s willingness to negotiate with the union in order to reach some kind of agreement.

“I think the board still wants to be in Newton,” Walker said. “And I think we gave the message that we want to be here too.”

Production and maintenance employees who were actively employed by Maytag when the strike began June 10 have been instructed to return to work Tuesday. Employees who were last recalled on June 23 are not to report to work.

“The new contract is a positive development,” said Mark Krivoruchka, Maytag‘s senior vice president of human resources. “We are pleased that union members recognized that cost improvements are a necessity in this competitive environment.”

CEO Ralph Hake had said earlier this year that Newton is a high-cost factory and costs must be reduced if it is to continue to manufacture new products. He said Newton would not be considered for any new product platform launches until those cost factors are contained.

“We hope Ralph Hake sees we want a new production line,” said Walker. “I believe what the membership has done here in past years is prove its reliability.”

But Maytag officials said the cost concessions workers made in agreeing to the contract does not automatically allow for new product platforms locally.

“Future investment is predicated on four areas — safety, quality, delivery and cost,” said Maytag spokesperson Lynne Dragomier. “We continue to assess all plants against these measurements. As investment decisions come up in the future, we will continue to assess those areas. While good progress was made at the Newton laundry plant, it is still Maytag‘s highest cost facility.”

Employees said many were disappointed by the agreement. Patrick Savini, a 17-year veteran of Maytag, said he is sure it didn’t pass by a sizeable margin.

“When it comes down to the nitty-gritty and your job and your livelihood, it’s a different story,” he said.

When asked if he was happy to be going back to work Tuesday, Savini said, “Not under this contract.”

Rempp believes many union members went to Newton Senior High School for Friday’s meeting with the intention of voting no. But, she said, mention of replacement workers may have changed some minds.

“I think it was a scare tactic,” she said, adding that speeches from some at the meeting changed the minds of many union members. “I think some people got scared and voted yes.”

“I hope Maytag does honor this contract for four years and in those four years realizes what members of (UAW Local) 997 do for this company and this community and offer us a fair contract in the future,” VanZante said, “instead of corporate greed.”

VanZante voiced disapproval over a contract item that gives employees a one-time wage increase over the next contract period, while they have been accustomed to annual wage increases over the past three years. He was pleased that the company did not infringe on benefits given to Maytag retirees.

But, he added, “there’s nothing there for new hires.”

Savini said he voted no and found nothing in the contract worth voting yes on, except for the prescription drug program.

Employees who gathered at the Scoreboard voiced their appreciation for the support of the community throughout the strike.

“The union has lists of businesses within the community (that supported the union during the strike),” VanZante said. “As a union member, I will support them in the future. But businesses that did not support the union … they’re done in my books.”

Some union members said they had no choice but to support the contract offer.

“It’s all about corporate greed,” Tim Kendall said, who has worked at Maytag for more than 19 years. “How can they take anything away from us when they made $120 million last year?”

In spite of his discontentment with portions of the contract, Kendall said he chose to vote in favor of it anyway.

“My theory is take what you can get right now,” he said. “In my opinion, if you voted it down, you were gambling, and gambling is for losers. What if we turned it down, came back in three months, and they said, ‘Sorry, we’re moving to Mexico?’

“The bottom line is I can’t raise six kids on $200 a week. My kids come first. These past three weeks, I haven’t felt like doing anything with my kids, even though while I’ve been off they’ve been asking to go to the pool. When I found out they had a contract, I was like, ‘Let’s go swimming!'”

Randy Sapp, who has been employed by Maytag for 10 years, also expressed relief that an agreement had been reached even though he is not completely content with the new contract.

“I feel it’s good for the community and for their families, but it’s not what we wanted specifically,” Sapp said. “It’s just one battle in an ongoing war. It’s just one battle, and the war goes on.

“We don’t like giving up what we gave up, but you can’t go out and start somewhere else at where we’re at now.”

Contract highlights

The contract calls for active employees to begin contributing to health care costs on an increasing fee schedule beginning 18 months from now under three plan options.

The core plan calls for an80/20 co-payment for health care with a $200 individual/$400 family deductible. The plan calls for a maximum $2,000 individual/$4,000 family out-of-pocket maximum payment. Employee contributions to the plan amount to $15 each pay period for single coverage to $50 for family coverage. The contribution would begin Jan. 1, 2006.

The contribution cost would increase each of the next two years of the contract with single coverage contributions increasing $5 per pay period each year. Family coverage contributions would increase $15 a pay period in year three of the contract and another $20 in year four.

Employees would also have an opportunity to participate in a “buy-up” and “buy-down” health plan.

The “buy-up” plan would include a90/10 co-pay with lower deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. Employee contributions are higher than under the core plan.

The “buy-down” plan offers higher deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums with lower employee contributions.

Employees will have a $5 co-pay on generic medications beginning Jan. 1, 2005. Brand medicine co-pays will be $15.

The contract also calls for the establishment of a health reimbursement account for each bargaining unit employee with Maytag making annual increasing contributions over the course of the contract. An employee’s health reimbursement starts at $450 on Jan. 1, 2005, rising to $600 on Jan. 1, 2008.

In addition, there will be no cost of living allowance diversions under the new contract with the current formula remaining unchanged.

The contract also calls for changes in retiree healthcare coverage.

For retirements taking effect after Jan. 1, 2008, post-65 health coverage will be eliminated. However, those retirees will receive up to $50 per month to pay for Medicare Part D coverage beginning in 2006.

Those retirees under age 65 will be covered by the same health care plans being offered to unit members but with a sliding scale contribution requirement. Those with 20-plus years of service will be required to pay 20 percent of the plan cost with those with 10-year-of-service paying 50 percent of the cost.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2005, employees will be given a choice of either the current pension plan — with slight increases — or a cash balance plan with a 401(k) and employer match. Employees retiring this month would see a $2,550 monthly pension, which would rise to $2,700 beginning June 1, 2007.

All employees hired after June 1, 2004, will only have the cash balance plan with employer match made available to them. Current employees will be eligible to participate in a 401(k) plan beginning next year.

Details on the cash-balance plan and 401(k) opportunity will be given to employees later this year.

Current wage schedules will remain in effect over the course of the contract with a ratification bonus and lump sum payments set. By approving the contract, all active bargaining members will receive a $500 ratification bonus, less taxes, payable later this month.

Bargaining unit members will receive three lump sum payments in 2005. In January, a $500 payment, less taxes, will be given with $550 payments made in June and December. In 2006, two lump sum payments of $600 will be made. In 2007, incentive and day work rates will increase 2.5 percent ,effective June 1.

All current retirees will receive a lump sum payment of $250, minus taxes, on Jan. 1, 2005.

Newton Daily News staff writer Mandi Lamb and Editor Peter Hussmann contributed to this story.

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