Posts Tagged ‘United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America’

Workers OK New Contract at Erie Locomotive Plant

June 16, 2019

Union workers in Erie, Pennsylvania, last week ratified a new contract with Wabtec that will bring labor peace to the locomotive assembly plant for the next four years.

Members of locals 506 and 618 of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America approved the pact after 128 days of negotiations and a nine-day strike in March. The union represents 1,700 workers.

The former GE Transportation facility in Lawrence Park had been threatened with closure.

News reports indicated that both sides gave in on some of their demands.

New hires will be paid less than existing employees but be put on a 10-year path toward reaching the top of the pay scale. Current employees will continue to be paid at the existing wage rates.

Wabtec agreed to continue building new locomotive at the Erie plant operating and to hire 100 new workers, although that was short of the 400 jobs the union had wanted.

The two sides also compromised on overtime with Wabtec agreeing that it would be voluntary and not mandatory as the company had sought.

GE Erie Locomotive Plant Facing a Crossroads

August 3, 2016

The future of the General Electric Transportation locomotive assembly plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, may be hanging in the balance after the company and its union failed to agree on a contract revision.

GE transportationGE Transportation and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America conducted 60 days of talks, but have agreed only on the fact that they cannot come to an agreement.

The company is urging the union to allow its members to vote on the company’s latest offer, even though union leadership rejected it.

That offer would involve the transfer of 122 workers, reduce the number of job classification from 56 to 22, impose an unpaid lunch period and eliminate piecework.

New employees and those called back to their positions from furlough would be paid about 40 percent less than current employees.

The carrot being offered by GE is that it would invest $50 million in an initiative dubbed Reinvent Erie to modernize the Erie plant and spend another $64 million to fund up to 350 early retirement options.

GE said it would also agree that no more work would be transferred for at least three years and that 150 new jobs would be created through new lines of work during that period.

The offer remains valid for another two weeks, but union leadership said it would not allow its members to vote on the proposal.

“We don’t vote on proposals,” said Scott Slawson, president of UE Local 506. “We vote on agreements and there is none to vote on.”

Not surprisingly, management and the union’s leadership don’t see the situation in the same way.

Randy Biletnikoff, general manager of Erie operations, told the union in a letter, “We believe it would be unfortunate if we left these negotiations unconcluded and unsuccessful because employees were not allowed to make a deliberate and informed decision about the company’s last proposal.”

Richard Simpson, vice president of the global supply chain at GE Transportation, told the Erie Times-News that although he understands the union’s reluctance to take a lower wage, it must consider the realities of the local marketplace.

“I have hired over 500 in this area over the last two to three years,” he said, a reference to an expansion that took place in Grove City, Pennsylvania, where engines are built and rebuilt. “I have a pretty good idea what the market will bear. Right now, Erie continues to price itself out of the market.”

But as Slawson sees it, GE is asking the union to vote on its own demise.

“They don’t respect our decision,” he said in reference to union leadership rejecting the company’s latest offer. “They want us to vote on our own demise. They are pushing buttons all through the plant trying to interfere with the union’s process.”

Slawson told the Times-News that the union has seen employment in the Erie plant fall by 1,500 following a massive layoff earlier this year.

The bargaining process, he said, was supposed to be about the planned loss of 181 jobs, but the company’s best offer addressed preserving only a third of those jobs.

“One of the things we agreed on is we are not bringing legacy employees back at less than they were making when they left,” Slawson said of the union leadership’s position.

Simpson said GE agreed to protect the average wage of $33 an hour and allow raises that total $1.20 an hour to take place over the next three years that were negotiated in an earlier contract.

The pay for new and recalled employees would average $20.82, which Simpson said is slightly above average for the Erie labor market.

“I am deeply disappointed,” Simpson said. “In my 32 years with the company, it is the most attractive I have ever seen assembled. “The company and the union have both made valiant efforts, but the divide was significant.

“They have what I think is our best offer. I urge them to take it to the members and take it to a vote. If the membership decides that it is not a good idea, we accept that.”

Although GE officials have not said so in public thus far, the specter looming over the failed contract talks is that the plant may close and/or more job cuts will be imposed.

Even if the union had accepted GE’s offer, Slawson said it might not matter.

“General Electric is going to do what General Electric is going to do,” he said. “GE has proved time and again that two-tier wages don’t mean anything to them. They closed Appliance Park in Louisville where they had three-tier wages. It didn’t matter.”

As for the contention that a $20-an-hour job is no better than no job at all, Slawson said, “Everybody is going to have their opinion, and I very much respect that, but we are going to argue for what is best for our members. When you reduce wages by that much, it’s going to affect people’s lives.”

Standing by and watching is Barbara Chaffee, CEO of the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, which has urged the union leadership to conduct a vote.

“The impact of not reinventing GE Transportation Erie, of not making it a marketplace-competitive facility, has an impact on the entire Erie region,” she said.

Simpson said he’s prepared to begin recalling furloughed workers immediately if the union agrees to the company’s proposal.

And if the union balks at calling a vote or rejects the company’s offer?

“Without cultural and wage-structure changes I do not see a significant investment like Reinvent Erie,” Simpson said. “I believe this proposal would have stemmed the downward trend and brought some real stability to the plant and, frankly, to our community.”