Labor unions at some of the region’s largest private employers are negotiating for new contracts. Nurses at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Steelworkers at Hecla Mining Co. both are working with federal mediators on new contracts. Machinists at a West Plains aerospace manufacturer have been on strike for just over a month.
An electrified crowd of union workers gathered Friday afternoon in a parking lot behind Triumph Composite Systems, a major supplier of airplane parts to Boeing, Airbus and Bombardier. The rally marked one month since members of the local Machinists union voted to strike.
Some 400 workers walked off the job after rejecting what the company called its final offer in negotiations for a three-year contract. Negotiations will resume Tuesday with a federal mediator. Jerry Purser, a member of the Machinists’ bargaining team, said he’s “cautiously optimistic.”
The Machinists want better pensions and to eliminate a two-tiered wage system that took effect with the signing of their latest contract in 2013.
“It’s not just about the money,” said Helen Evans, who shapes plastic airplane parts at the Triumph facility. “It’s about treating people equally and not pitting us against each other.”
Workers also accuse Triumph of abusing state tax incentives designed to create well-paying jobs in aerospace manufacturing. During the past two years, the Pennsylvania-based company got $790,000 in Washington tax breaks while sending some jobs to Mexico, union members said.
“We will not bow to the corporate dogs that have done this to us,” Gary Allen, the Machinists’ international vice president, shouted into a small sea of picket signs Friday.
Triumph did not respond to messages seeking comment. But the company said in a recent “open letter” to employees and the Spokane community that even with the two-tier wage structure, average earnings in 2015 for union employees was about $55,000, some 15 percent to 20 percent higher than similar jobs pay in the region. The letter also said that all aerospace companies in Washington are eligible to receive state tax incentives, and that Triumph doesn’t receive those subsidies for work performed outside the state.
Sacred Heart nurses
Contract negotiations between the Washington State Nurses Association and Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center are scheduled to resume with a federal mediator June 28. Sacred Heart’s roughly 1,700 nurses want higher wages and more control over working conditions and staffing levels.
Negotiations began Dec. 15. The old contract expired Jan. 1, but both sides agreed to renew it while negotiations are pending. Some 200 nurses gathered outside the hospital May 30 in a show of solidarity. The latest round of negotiations was carried out Wednesday.
“Both sides are continuing to work hard toward reaching an agreement,” said Providence spokeswoman Liz DeRuyter. “We have completed two days of productive discussions with the federal mediator, and look forward to ongoing efforts to reach an agreement.”
WSNA spokeswoman Ruth Schubert added, “They made some progress but still have work to do.”
Steelworkers at Hecla Mining
A federal mediator met Thursday with negotiators from Hecla Mining Co. and United Steelworkers Local 5114 to help both sides break gridlock on a new contract for about 250 employees at the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan, Idaho.
“We’re very optimistic” about reaching an agreement, said Luke Russell, vice president for external affairs for Hecla.
A spokesman for the Steelworkers did not return calls seeking comment.
The previous six-year contract expired at the end of April, and talks on a new contract have lasted about eight weeks.
The Coeur d’Alene-based company is asking workers to contribute some of their health insurance costs and switch from daily to weekly overtime pay. It also wants to adjust bonus pay and gain more control over scheduling shifts, among other concessions. The company is proposing an average wage increase of 8 percent.
The silver mine is changing, going deeper and embracing newer technologies, and Hecla will need more flexibility for safety and economic viability, Russell said.
“We want to continue to invest in the mine and give it a long life,” he said.
Hecla recently finished digging its No. 4 shaft, which reaches almost 2 miles underground, and expects to begin production in it by the end of this year, Russell said.
“We’re developing into new territory – different ground conditions, hotter. We may need possibly new working methods,” he said. “And so what we would like in the contract is more flexibility on getting the right people in the right place for keeping the mine safe and productive.”
Staff writer Scott Maben contributed to this report.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.