Xerox strike averted

Workers at the Xerox printer head manufacturing plant in Wilsonville, Oregon voted Oct. 25 to approve a new two-year contract — putting to rest earlier plans for a strike.

SEIU Local 49 member Brian Wood, president of the Xerox Wilsonville Bargaining, reported mixed feelings about the settlement.

Xerox and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49 reached a tentative agreement Oct. 20 — one week after over 80 percent of the workers voted to authorize a strike. The agreement then went to a vote among the bargaining unit’s 183 members, with the union bargaining team recommending approval. The vote was 92 percent to approve, said Local 49 internal organizer Casey Filice.

Overall, workers made concessions in the contract, despite Xerox’ profitability. The union bargaining team had previously agreed to less generous retirement benefits, while Xerox agreed to let workers enroll in Local 49’s superior health plan — at no extra cost to the company.

The sticking point which led to the strike vote was a demand by Xerox to reduce workers’ short-term disability insurance benefit. The current benefit pays out 80 percent of pay for six months in the event of a serious illness or accident. Xerox wanted to cut that to 60 percent of pay, for five months, with a one-week waiting period before the benefit begins. In the end, the workers agreed to accept the company’s proposed benefit cut, but not until the contract expires Aug. 1, 2013. And at that time, workers would be allowed to offset the cuts by using one day of accrued vacation pay per week of disability leave. The one-week waiting period requirement and the shortening to five months begin Jan. 1, 2013, but workers will be able to use vacation days for the first week of disability also.

During bargaining, Xerox said it’s making the disability benefit cuts company-wide. But the union negotiators didn’t want to be the first. When the contract comes up again in 2013, it will be clear whether Xerox imposed the cuts on non-represented workers and managers.

Unit president Brian Wood said he had mixed feelings about contract settlement.

“I’m glad we can put it behind us,” Wood said. “It’s just frustrating that the company is making money and this is what they choose to offer. It’s hard to stomach that they can pay the CEO $13 million and yet they’re going to freeze our pension.”

“We’re hopeful that in the next contract we can get some of it back,” Wood said.

The same day workers approved the new contract, Xerox reported a 28 percent surge in profit for its third quarter.

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