Next Vote May Hinge On Job Cuts Tentative Agreement Boosts Benefits, But Kaiser Workers Concerned About Combining Jobs
Negotiators for Kaiser Aluminum Corp. and the United Steelworkers of America retired to their corners Sunday after another round of talks yielded a potential settlement to a strike that enters its second week today.
The agreement was disclosed late Saturday, after the two sides had met separately and together throughout the day in Salt Lake City.
Three thousand Steelworkers - 2,000 in Spokane - struck Kaiser last Monday after a vote the prior week rejected a contract announced in early January.
The existing contract had expired Oct. 31, but the two sides had agreed to an extension to allow more time for negotiations.
The proposed contract makes two technical changes in the January document:
Medical benefits will be extended to spouses making as much as $15,000, instead of $10,000.
A signing bonus can be taken as two personal days during the 47-month life of the agreement or as the $200 cash originally allowed for.
The fate of a letter of understanding that restricts the company’s leeway in combining jobs to reduce the work force is less clear.
Many Steelworkers say they fear elimination of the safeguard would cost jobs at Kaiser’s Mead smelter. Nine hundred union members work in the plant.
At the Trentwood rolling mill, where both hourly and salaried positions have been trimmed to streamline plant operations, the letter was less of an issue.
In a Sunday announcement confirming the tentative agreement, Kaiser did not mention the letter.
Spokeswoman Susan Ashe said the January agreement stands except for the medical benefits and signing bonus changes.
But a notice to members of Steelworker Local 329, which represents Kaiser workers, says President Jerry Miller “will explain the change in language in the letter of understanding.”
Miller, who was on his way back from Salt Lake City Sunday, could not be reached for comment. Other officials with the Mead and Trentwood locals said they wouldn’t know more until meeting with their leadership.
Joe Thorp, president of Trentwood Steelworkers Local 338, also attended the Salt Lake City talks, as did the presidents from the other locals in Tacoma, Ohio and Louisiana.
All have recommended ratification of the new proposal.
A split among the local presidents on the first contract was blamed in part for its narrow, 1,448 to 1,211, defeat.
Bob Rudd, financial secretary of the Trentwood local, said Spokane Steelworkers would vote from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, with tabulation to take place immediately.
If approved, he said, “We intend to try and get people back to work Tuesday night for graveyard shift.”
Kaiser has continued operating the struck plants using salaried employees.
In the company’s Sunday statement, President George Haymaker praised the efforts of the stand-ins, adding that he is pleased there will be a new contract vote.
“We consider the package to be very fair and forwardlooking for all concerned,” he said.