24-hour strike at ConMet nets new contract

Members of Machinists Lodge 1432 voted 72-63 on March 8 to end a 24-hour strike and ratify a new three-year contract at Consolidated Metco (ConMet) Rivergate. The union represents 160 workers at the Portland plant, which manufactures aluminum hubs and spring brackets for Class 8 trucks.

On the morning of March 7, workers rejected a company offer by a 99 percent margin. By noon a picket line surrounded the plant on North Columbia Avenue in Portland’s Rivergate Industrial District.

The previous five-year contract expired March 4.

A key sticking point in the company proposal was introduction of a two-tiered wage system and grievance procedure for new hires. Workers also expressed displeasure at a proposal taking them out of the Machinists Health and Welfare Trust, and with the length of the deal at only three years. The members wanted another five-year contract.

“We’re trying to protect the guys coming in after us — and protect ourselves by not allowing the company to create a new job classification at the lower-tiered rate by calling it something else,” said 32-year employee Vern Needles.

On March 8, Machinists General Vice President Lee Pearson joined nearly three dozen pickets at the plant. Picketing had been under way for just over 24 hours when word came that a new proposal was on the table. Union officials arrived shortly after 2 p.m. to hand out the new offer and brief the striking workers on its contents.

The picket line came down at 2:15 p.m. and the contract was voted at 7 p.m. that evening.

Key among the changes was elimination of Appendix B, which contained the two-tier language.

The new proposal remained three years in duration and it still converted the health and welfare plan from the Machinists Trust to the United Metal Trades Association Plan. Workers currently have co-payments, and they will continue to do so with amounts based on which health care plan they choose.

The proposal boosted wages $1 an hour over three years and it increased the pension a nickel to $1.40 an hour. The current average wage at the plant is $17 an hour, but can reach $21.45 an hour, depending on seniority and job classification, said picket captain Tim Snethen.

ConMet has another plant in Clackamas, Oregon, where 150 workers also are represented by Local 1432. That contract expires Aug. 1. Negotiations will begin this summer.