Both Wabtec and UE 506 Report Slow and Frustrating Progress on Contract Talks
Time is ticking down for Erie Wabtec and its union workers to reach a new contract that in the company's words, "positions employees, the site, and Erie for long-term success." The company is one of the largest employers in Erie County, with union employment levels now just over 14-hundred employees.
But recently hundreds of UE 506 union workers marched down the avenue inside the plant to demonstrate that they're not impressed with contract talks so far. "They're fed up with the misinterpretation, they're fed up with being told that they're the number one asset of the company and basically treated as second rate," said Scott Slawson, UE 506 Union President.
Slawson said the demonstration was driven by union membership and took place during a break on their shift. "It was member driven thing. I think that they're fed up with a lot of things. Number one they don't think that the company is negotiating seriously with them. Because as much as we're doing the negotiating, so is the membership. We're basically there to argue for what it is that they tell us needs to change," Slawson said.
In the negotiations so far, the union has been focused on contract language, saying when it's not consistently interpreted, there is constant conflict between workers and the company. "Every time we turn around the language seems to get interpreted different and it leads to a lot of conflict," Slawson said. "So our primary goal is obviously to open communication and reduce conflict and it just seems to be something the company's not interested in at this moment."
One issue frustrating union workers right now is about scheduling their vacation time. "The company is going to take a new position on this and say, you know, if you don't pre-schedule your vacation in the first couple months of the year, we're going to schedule it for you, and I think that people are are fed up with that," Slawson said.
In a statement, Wabtec officials told Erie News Now, they agree that progress in the talks is not moving quickly.
After seven days of negotiation meetings, progress towards finalizing a new agreement continues to be slow. UE Locals 506 and 618 have not yet provided Wabtec all of their non-economic proposals and have not responded to the company’s April 27 proposal on wages and benefits. Negotiations will resume on Monday, May 15. Our goal is to reach an agreement that positions our employees, the site, and Erie for long-term success.”
Scott Slawson would not comment on what UE 506 might propose for wages and benefits, but he did comment on what the company has proposed. "It's frustrating you know when you read about things like $750-million in stock buy backs, increased dividends and the company turns around and offers you a 2% pay raise over the life of a contract."
The union president said the two sides are still early in the bargaining process. They plan to meet at the bargaining table everyday the week of May 15 except for May 18 when UE 506 holds membership meetings. Slawson said the union doesn't want to hurt the company or strike. They want to bargain with Wabtec decision-makers, not lawyers, and end up with a contract that's fair for everyone.