Union members returned to work at Portland’s Western Star truck plant July 23 after Machinists and Painters accepted a company offer and ended their strike. The offer from Daimler Trucks North America was little changed from the one the union members rejected in June.
Said Painters business representative Dave Winkler: “I don’t think we won. I don’t think we lost.”
Bargaining teams for Machinists Lodge 1005 and Painters Local 1094 met July 17 and 18 with Daimler management — and came away with two modifications to the previous offer. Workers will have two more months to retire before Daimler terminates its promise of post-65 supplemental medical benefits. And Daimler added a $0.25-an-hour raise at the end of its previous three-year contract offer. The new contract runs 40 months, and expires Oct. 26, 2016. [CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article reported incorrectly that the employer offer on attendance policy was also changed.]
“The strike moved the needle a little bit,” said Machinists representative Joe Kear. “People should be proud that they were able to accomplish that.”
Though members of Service Employees Local 49 and Teamsters Local 305 had voted to accept the company’s previous offer, they honored the other unions’ picket lines and did not work during the strike. On July 20, those two groups voted to amend their contracts to add identical language. The striking Painters voted to accept the new offer the same day. And two days later, striking Machinists voted to accept the new offer.
The new contract provides immediate raises of 60 cents an hour, followed by a 40-cent raise July 1, 2014; a 30-cent raise July 1, 2015; and a 25-cent raise July 1, 2016. In all, wages will rise $1.55 an hour by the end of the contract, topping out at $24.80 an hour for the most common machinist classification.
Those raises will be partially offset by increased employee contributions to the company-provided health insurance plan. The increases range from $5 a month for individual coverage to $45 a month for family coverage. The premium increases work out to a reduction in take-home pay of between 3 and 26 cents an hour.
For Daimler, total compensation costs will be going up in other ways during the contract. To make up for financial losses in the Machinists-sponsored multi-employer pension fund, Daimler is obligated to pay a pension rehabilitation surcharge that will reach $6.15 an hour by July 2016. That’s on top of the regular pension contribution of $4.47 an hour. And though the worker share of health insurance costs will increase, Daimler’s contribution will rise even more: Premiums are forecasted to rise about 15 percent in two years, reaching $554 a month for employee-only coverage and $1,601 a month for full-family coverage.
Unchanged from the previous contract, the new contract provides for 14 paid holidays a year (including an annual plant shutdown between Christmas and New Year’s) plus three to six weeks of paid vacation annually.
The new contract ends the company’s obligation to provide post-65 retiree health insurance (insurance that supplements Medicare coverage). The 111 most senior Machinists members will be affected by that; their less-senior co-workers didn’t have that benefit, under the previous contract. The workers would still get the coverage if they retire before Jan. 1, 2014. To replace the company-provided coverage would cost $38 to $323 a month in the Portland area, according to a union estimate.
The union negotiating teams recommended that members vote to approve the company’s modified offer.
“Even though we were in a position to hurt them, there weren’t signs the company was going to move in a direction that would be advantageous to members,” Kear said.
The vote was close in the Machinists’ case: 225 to 209.
No union members crossed the picket line to work during the 22-day strike, but Daimler began using striker replacements July 15 — brought in by Strom Engineering of Minnetonka, Minnesota, a company that specializes in providing labor during work stoppages. The week before the strike ended, union picket captains estimated 150 strikebreakers were crossing the picket line daily. If the use of replacement workers was intended to frighten strikers, Kear said it didn’t have that effect. The replacement workers were withdrawn July 22 after union members ratified the contract.
After walking through the plant, Kear said it appeared that the replacement workers did nothing but make a mess. No trucks were completed, and members returning to their work stations found components that were built incorrectly, like brakes that had airing put in backwards.
Striking unions had begun working with Portland Jobs With Justice to plan a mass strike support rally July 29. With the strike over, the rally was cancelled.
Bread-and-butter issues were front and center during the dispute, but it was clear in several union meetings that respect was also an underlying issue. At a joint meeting July 17 of the two striking unions, chief steward Dwain Panian said the union bargaining team made it clear to management that workers feel they haven’t been listened to, haven’t been thanked, and haven’t been treated with respect. The company demonstrates its attitude in small-scale morale-busters, like foul-smelling employee bathrooms, taking away safety glass cleaner on the shop floor, and ending the practice of providing Gatorade on scorching summer days — in a plant without air conditioning. Now that union members are back on the job, the company will have a chance to improve morale — if it chooses to address those issues.