The 16 members of amalgamated Local 4294-03 at Solvay Fluorides, LLC’s Alorton, Ill., hydrogen fluoride plant ratified a new three-year agreement on July 19 that beat back concessions, improved wages, and created new health and safety language.
Talks began July 9, and the old contract was set to expire Aug. 1. As bargaining grew near, the production and maintenance workers were ready and willing to support their negotiations committee, wearing union shirts and displaying “Fair Contract Now” signs inside their vehicle windshields and in the control room windows.
“We also held meetings before negotiations to find out what people wanted in the contract, and we brought those issues to the bargaining table,” said Local 4294-03 Unit Chair Mark Lightle.
The members’ solidarity paid off, and the group reached an agreement after four days of negotiations.
They beat back the company’s attempt to make changes to work schedules that would have infringed on time off, impeded employees’ ability to be with their families and affected premium pay. They also demanded that Solvay bargain over its proposed revisions to the existing substance abuse policy; agreement was not reached over the changes, so the policy remained unchanged.
Members also gained by receiving a 2.7 percent wage increase every year of the three-year contract, a one-time signing bonus of $500 and a ten-cent increase in the evening and midnight shift differentials.
An employee who has worked eight hours and is forced to work the next shift will be paid double time for the extra eight or more hours of work. To avoid excessive overtime, Solvay agreed to hire a utility person to cover employees who are out sick or on vacation.
“We kept our health insurance with no changes, which was a big deal,” Lightle said. “Premiums paid by members will not increase during the contract term.”
The allowance for the Solvay Wellness Program increased from $200 to $225 per year, and receipts for reimbursement can now be turned in throughout the year instead of the previous limited time frame.
Lightle said the contract contains improvement in the pay-off rules for 401(k) loans, and wealth management firm Merrill Lynch will come to the workplace to educate workers about investments.
New Safety Clause
The union negotiated important contract language that established a labor/management safety committee that will meet at least monthly to discuss and address safety issues, and jointly inform all employees of safety information.
“The union will have more say over safety,” said District 7 Staff Rep. Dave Dowling, who negotiated the contract with the Solvay unit’s bargaining committee. “The union can insist on what is discussed and on the committee’s agenda, review and approve the meeting minutes, and hold the company accountable to take care of safety matters.”
Union members on the safety committee will also participate in the investigation of incidents, near misses and other safety-related matters. Their recommendations will be part of the process to prevent future safety occurrences.
An existing company procedure which allows workers to dispute a job assignment they consider to be unsafe will now be in the union contract as well.
These health and safety provisions are extremely important when dealing with a hazardous chemical like hydrogen fluoride (HF).
“Our members know what they are doing in controlling, handling and shipping HF,” Dowling said. “These safety provisions will give them tools to prevent incidents from happening.”