Ohio Manufacturing Workers Strike to
|Striking Schneider Electric Employees in Ohio say that the company’s final wage proposal won’t be enough to cover rising health insurance premiums. Workers are members of Oxford Local 2287.|
The company’s final offer freezes employees’ defined benefit pension plans and offers insufficient wage increases, said the IBEW’s Randal Middleton, who has been helping lead negotiations for union employees of the France-based multinational company.
“The bottom line is that this company has no interest in negotiating,” said Middleton, who directs the Manufacturing Department at the International Office in Washington, D.C. “We have no way of forcing them to the table. And this is the third concessionary contract in a row these workers have given up.”
The previous three-year contract expired Sept. 14. Schneider issued its last, best and final offer Sept. 26, nine days before the strike.
Though the company put forth a 2-percent annual raise, workers say that’s not enough to combat rising company health care costs.
“Our raises are not high enough to pay the insurance premiums,” Local 2287 member Roy Day told the McClatchy-Tribune as he walked the picket line. “We’re losing money.”
Schneider, on the other hand, isn’t.
With about $2 billion in profits last year, Schneider is a giant in the electrical industry. Chairman and CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire 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.
But those profits haven’t trickled down to the U.S. workforce. Contract talks have been tough, and about 40 activists picketed during negotiations last month in St. Louis, carrying signs that read, “Hands off our pension.”
Members are part of an eight-union coordinated bargaining committee, which includes the Teamsters and the Machinists unions. 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., which is the company’s largest and most successful market. The employees work in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and Ohio.
While the unions bargain as one group, each local union votes separately on whether to accept or reject a contract. Two IBEW local unions – Lexington, Ky., Local 2220 and Lincoln, Neb., Local 2366 – voted to accept the offer, despite taking concessions, said Middleton.
At the Ohio factory, Schneider has pushed through a two-tiered wage system that affects the vast majority of employees and offers lower pay for newer hires. While veteran workers can make more than $29 an hour plus pension contributions, a much larger group of younger employees makes a fraction of that and has no pension.
“While a 2-percent raise might be good for the older workers, it’s nothing to the guy making 11, 12 bucks an hour,” Middleton said. “The company has been trying to turn the higher wage earners against those making less. That’s what Schneider wants. They don’t want people to remain together.” Instead, Middleton said the unions proposed granting larger wage increases to the lower-tiered members while preserving pensions for the veteran hands.
About 320 Machinists members in Peru, Ind., who work for Schneider are also on strike. Tom O’Heron, who directs collective bargaining for the unit, compared the company to “the neighborhood bully.”
“You have something you’ve earned and worked hard to get, and they want to take it through threats and intimidation,” he said.
During talks, the company said it would consider moving work to a nonunion facility in El Paso, Texas, if the unions didn’t concede, the IBEW’s Middleton said. Since the final contract offer on Sept. 26, Schneider has twice made changes to the proposal without negotiating first, prompting the IBEW, the Machinists and the Teamsters to file National Labor Relation Board charges.
Since Schneider ended negotiations, the unions’ bargaining committee has requested three times to sit down with company management. Schneider so far has not answered the requests.
Check back with IBEW.org for updates.