PITTSBURGH — Chanting “One Union, One Tier,” dozens of members of the United Electrical Workers union, other area unionists and community supporters marched outside a Wabtec bosses’ shareholders meeting here May 17. The company is demanding the 1,700 members of UE Locals 506 and 618 agree to deep and permanent two-tier wages for all new hires, as well as for current workers who are laid off beyond their recall rights.
“We are not just fighting for our families, we are fighting for all working people,” Matt McCracken, a member of the Local 506 executive board, said at the rally. “Don’t derail our future,” read the lead banner in the march. The new-hire wage would be from $16.75 to $25 an hour, down from the average of $35 an hour under the expired contract.
The UE has represented generations of workers at the Erie plant for 82 years. Until earlier this year, the plant — which makes railroad freight locomotives and parts — was owned by General Electric. When Wabtec took over in February, they demanded union members accept a steep concessionary contract, including a two-tier wage scale. The unionists responded with a strike that won widespread support in the community.
After nine days on the picket line, the union and company bosses agreed to a 90-day extension of much of the old contract and workers returned to work. Negotiations have continued with participation of a federal mediator. The extension runs out June 3.
Since UE workers returned to the job, the company and local media bosses have run an ongoing scare campaign against the union. The bosses have said over and over that workers have just one choice to make — accept two-tier wages or watch their jobs be moved to other Wabtec plants.
UE General President Peter Knowlton told the rally that there is only one thing driving the company, “Greed, Greed, Greed.” At the same time as Wabtec took over the Erie plant and demanded the workers take the two-tier and other concessions, the board voted to give Wabtec’s officers nearly $120 million in bonuses.
Union officials reported bosses have backed off a few of their demands, including for forced overtime whenever the company says they need it, but continue to insist on the two-tier.
The company also wants the right to subcontract work at will and to assign up to 10% of the jobs in the plant to temporary workers. And they are demanding new contract provisions that will weaken the union’s strength on the shop floor.
The bosses also demand “the unqualified right to establish and enforce minimum standards of production and quality for all operations and job functions” with no negotiations, and the right to transfer or fire anyone they claim doesn’t cut it.
Union officials also said they have made an offer that includes wage concessions that could save Wabtec millions of dollars over a four-year contract. It would allow bosses to start new workers at two-tier pay, but require “a path” to the current wage rates. The company said no.
Others at the rally included members of area UE Locals 610, 625, 667 and 690, the Northwest Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation, Erie County United, Pittsburgh United, the United Steelworkers, Painters union, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, as well as the Socialist Workers Party, Democratic Socialists of America and the Green Party.
Messages of solidarity can be sent to UE Local 506, 3923 Main St., Lawrence Park, PA 16511 or by fax at (814) 899-0666.