Schneider Electric Employees Picket During
|‘Hands off our pension’: IBEW activists protest Wednesday in St. Louis during tense contract negotiations with France-based manufacturer Schneider Electric.|
So why is management playing hardball with its IBEW workers’ benefits – especially since the U.S. is Schneider’s most successful market?
Union leaders meeting with Schneider management last week in St. Louis for contract talks said that the company issued its last, best and final offer – which freezes pensions, grants only a 2 percent annual wage increase over the next three years and ignores dozens of union proposals, such as fixing payroll errors in a timely manner.
“They are not hurting for money – they’re clearly doing very well,” said IBEW Director of Manufacturing Randal Middleton, who is helping lead negotiations. “The takeaway here is that Schneider simply does not care about its employees.”
Contentious talks sparked an informational picket Wednesday outside the Hilton hotel where the parties are meeting. In full view of Schneider management, whose conference room window faced a nearby sidewalk, nearly 40 steering committee members from the IBEW, the Machinists and the Teamsters unions held signs with a clear message: “Hands off our pension.”
“They could see our signs, and they know we are serious,” Middleton said.
The company has also proposed onerous increases in employees’ share of health insurance.
“Under this proposal, medical costs will be so high that the small wage increase they offered won’t even matter,” Middleton said. “Members will actually be losing money by the second year of the contract.”
The current three-year contract expired September 14.
The IBEW represents about 600 Schneider employees who are members of Lexington, Ky., Local 2220; Oxford, Ohio, Local 2287; and Lincoln, Neb., Local 2366.
Members are part of an eight-union coordinated bargaining committee, which includes the Teamsters and the Machinists unions. About 1,300 union workers produce Schneider’s circuit breakers, panel boards , safety switches, transformers and more for residential and commercial use in the U.S.
That further complicates the situation, because Schneider sells a sizeable amount of their equipment directly to IBEW/NECA contractors. “Everything they make, our construction members use on the job site,” Middleton said. “But lately, when Schneider has been doing upgrades at its offices, they’ve been using scab contractors. They only care about the IBEW when it works for them.”
Two years ago, Schneider laid off most of its workforce at its facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after unions ratified a contract that already included concessions, Middleton said. The Eastern Iowa Gazette reported that Schneider outsourced much of the work to Mexico.
The company is preparing to relocate its U.S. headquarters from Illinois to Andover, Mass. The Boston Globe reported that “the company is weaning itself off its old business of selling switches, buttons and relays, using a series of acquisitions to aggressively pivot into the field of smart power systems.”
Tricoire, Schneider’s CEO, took home more than $6 million in executive compensation during fiscal year 2013, Businessweek.com reported. Since he took over operations in 2006, sales have risen 90 percent and company earnings have more than doubled.