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Garden State strike deadline looms

May 31, 2003|By JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Officials with Garden State Tanning and its employee union were to meet today if necessary in an effort to negotiate a deal and avoid an employee strike at midnight tonight.

Members of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees at the Garden State's two Williamsport area plants voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject the company's contract offer and to go on strike when their current contract expires tonight, union representative Bob Hinkle said.

"If we have to meet 24 hours today and tomorrow to get this thing resolved, we will do so," Garden State Tanning President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Lecher said Friday.

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Hinkle said by telephone Friday evening that proposed changes in the deal would be taken back to the employees for a vote this morning without a union recommendation that they be accepted.

The company has contingency plans if employees strike, but Lecher would not elaborate on them.

Probably the biggest of three sticking points is that the company's contract offer would cut piece rate workers' pay by the equivalent of $4 to $6 an hour and give the savings to other union employees, Hinkle said.

Hinkle said 180 to 200 of the workers who are paid by the piece. Lecher said company officials want to change that to pay them by the hour, which would result in lower pay.

Under the three-year contract proposal, a substantial number of company employees would see a wage increase, Lecher said.

Lecher said the two local Garden State Tanning automotive leather manufacturing plants have about 750 union employees. Hinkle said there are about 780 union members at the plants.

Hinkle said the proposed pay cut for piece rate workers was an attempt by the company to win votes from the other union members, but it didn't work.

Hinkle said he didn't have the vote counts, but about 610 union members voted on the contract Thursday and it was rejected by a 3-to-1 ratio. Union members voted by a 2-to-1 ratio to go on strike, he said.

The other two sticking points are that the company closed the pension plan and that the contract offer would have employees pay a high co-payment on health insurance, Hinkle said. Employees did not have to make a co-payment before and union officials realize it's not realistic to expect that to continue, he said.

With the pension plan closed, the company would put money into a 401(k) plan for employees, Hinkle said. Employees think the new plan wouldn't be as secure or provide as much money, he said.

Lecher said he needs to verify that those three issues are the sticking points. If they are, he is confident the company and union can resolve them. He said he was surprised to learn the 401(k) plan was an issue because union negotiators had supported it.

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