Wah Chang locks out 694 Albany Steelworkers
ALBANY - Approximately 690 Steelworkers have been locked out of their jobs at Allegheny Wah Chang since Sept. 3, following a year-long contract dispute.
Allegheny Technologies of Pittsburgh acquired the Millersburg, Ore., company in 1996 from Teledyne. Workers - represented by Steelworkers Local 6163 - produce space-age metals, including zirconium, niobium, tantalum, and other exotic metals used in nuclear fuel rods, missile guidance systems, heat resistance tiles for space shuttles and Rolls Royce engines.
Their contract expired Oct. 1, 2000. In accordance with that pact the union gave a 10-day notice to strike, but never did.
"We issued two additional strike notices since then but we did not call for a strike," Local 6163 President Wayne Boyd told the international union's Steelabor magazine. "Management got upset over the last one so they locked us out."
Wah Chang maintains that its workforce is on strike. The company has hired video-taping security guards and erected chain-link fences around its property. About 60 replacement workers have been hired to assist some 300 administrative employees who were transferred to the shop floor.
The company also stopped payment on health insurance premiums for all 694 union members and 330 retirees.
The major issues in the dispute are changes in health care benefits and health care funding, but also include wages and pension.
In 1990, under a previous owner, union members agreed to pay out of their wages all of the costs for retiree health insurance above $1,800 per year. The expense of those benefits has increased to $4,600 a year and now costs each worker 98 cents an hour. Employees hired since 1990 are not eligible for the retiree health insurance package.
When talks opened last year, Local 6163 proposed that the company shoulder responsibility for paying for the program. Wah Chang said it would, but only after eliminating dental and vision coverage, increasing co-pays for prescription drugs, and increasing the share of the premium paid by retirees to $122 per couple per month, and forcing retirees to pay 50 percent of all increases in premiums, reported the Oregon AFL-CIO's Weekly Update.
The union declined.
Local 6163 says the company has settled superior contracts with 17 Steelworker locals at other plants that negotiated under a national master agreement. Included in that master pact is Steelworkers Local 7150 at nearby Oremet.
Local 6163's negotiating team sat at the national bargaining table for 3 1/2 weeks in March but did not become part of that agreement. In June a new six-year contract that provides for pay and benefit increases was ratified by some 4,000 Steelworkers employed at the other Allegeny plants.
Negotiating on their own, members of Local 6163 rejected a Wah Chang proposal Aug. 2. The vote was 590-58.
"When the contracts from other Allegheny companies became clear, we could see we were being treated differently," Boyd told the Albany Democrat-Herald newspaper.
Local 6163 Recording Secretary Terri Wilson told the Northwest Labor Press that workers are seeking a similar contract to that of the other Allegheny plants. "We don't understand why they're doing this. We're wondering if they want to break our union."
The union presented a revised contract proposal to Wah Chang Oct. 11 but had not received a response at the time this issue went to press.
© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.