Military and corporate contracts are the bread and butter of Australian-owned Bradken Engineered Products, but when it comes to signing a contract with its Chehalis, Washington, foundry workers, the company appears to be dragging its feet.
The Chehalis foundry makes metal products used in rail, transit, mining, industrial, military, energy and power generation industries. Workers there voted to join the International Association of Machinists (IAM) Aug. 10, 2012.
Ending arbitrary pay was a top priority when workers began meeting with management to bargain a first-time union contract in November. Then this spring the company disclosed its official pay scale. Workers compared it to their actual wages, and were shocked to see that wages varied up to $10 an hour for the same job, and that new hires were sometimes paid more than the long-time workers who trained them.
But bargaining has produced no contract thus far in nine months of meetings. Machinists District Lodge W24 Rep Joe Kear said talks move slowly even on minor things. The company has agreed to “just cause” discipline and a grievance process. But its wage proposal is to keep the status quo, a set of practices workers can’t make sense of.
And the company doesn’t act like it’s in a hurry; Kear said management has generally been available to meet only twice a month, and has canceled five meetings since November.
The foot-dragging may have had the effect of unifying workers around the union banner, however. The August union vote was 48 to 44. But in May, 81 of about 100 workers signed a petition asking management to speed things up and sign a contract providing fair wages, dignity and respect.
Sammy Williams, 26-year-old Bradken worker who operates a sand reclamation machine, didn’t think much of unions when organizers and co-workers came knocking on his door last year. But Williams says he decided to give the union a chance, and since then management has driven him firmly into the union camp. He learned that the company’s wage policy was supposed to have started him at $12 an hour, but he had started at $10.15. He now serves on the union bargaining committee.
Since at least February, Bradken workers have been reaching out to the wider community for support, starting with a resolution of support by the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council.
On May 6, they received a letter of solidarity from the heads of two Australian unions — the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Australian Workers Union. Bradken is heavily unionized in its home country.
“Our two unions have met with the Australian CEO and MD of Bradken,” they wrote. “At that meeting, we demanded that the company negotiate a fair contract with the IAM immediately.”
The two sides were next scheduled to meet July 30, after this issue went to press.