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June 14, 2013

Bell to hire contract labor

Fort WORTH -- As early as Saturday, Bell Helicopter is expected to bring in contract labor because the company says machinists and other members of United Auto Workers Local 218 have refused to work voluntary overtime.

About 2,500 members of UAW Local 218 are working without a labor agreement while the union’s leadership continues to negotiate with the company, company officials said Friday. Union members soundly rejected the company’s contract offer on Sunday, 85-15.

“Unfortunately, for the past week, we have offered employees represented by the UAW Local 218 an opportunity to work voluntary overtime, but in nearly all cases they have refused that offer,’’ Bell Executive Vice President, Integrated Operations, Pete Riley wrote in an memo to employees.

Efforts to reach union leaders was unsuccessful Friday afternoon. Local 218 President Steve Andrews and other union officials did not return a request for comment. But a company memo said that the union has advised the employees to not work voluntary overtime.

Bell says it needs additional workers to meet its deadlines on work order and products. Contract laborers are scheduled to work at a limited number of Bell facilities and only the weekend, Riley said.

“While the union and our employees have the right to refuse to work voluntary overtime, we also have the right to support our customers -- who simply cannot afford a decrease in productivity or a slow down,’’ Riley wrote.

Union employees are encouraged to work overtime and earn extra pay, he said.

A sharp increase in healthcare premiums and a reduction in holiday pay were among the factors that prompted union workers at Bell to overwhelmingly reject a new contract offer, according to several workers.

While Bell said the “world-class” contract would provide pay increases of 9 percent over three years, the workers said many veteran employees would receive far less — no raise in the first year and 2 percent in each of the next two years.

Some workers, though, said the contract offer had many takeaways, including increased healthcare costs and reduction in job classifications that would outweigh the wage increase and could lead to layoffs.

Numerous workers have taken issue with information released by the company Sunday touting a proposed wage increase of 9.1 percent over three years.

They said the figure includes “wage progression” increases slated for some employees, such as new hires, that would provide automatic increases of $2 an hour. Others have salaries that rise by 75 cents an hour every six months.

But they said many longtime employees would see a salary increase of 4 percent by 2016. For an employee who makes $30 an hour, that is about $2,496 more a year, workers say, based on the current wage schedule.

On average, the Bell union workers earn base wage rates of more than $66,518 per year, according to the contract proposal.

Bell spokesman Bill Schroeder released a statement on Friday saying that the company would continue to negotiate in good faith.

“The offer the company presented employees represented by UAW Local 218 is a highly-competitive, world-class offer that provides industry-leading compensation including, on average, $15,682 in increased compensation per employee over the life of the agreement,’’ he said. “It also includes a best-in-class benefits package to support the well-being of UAW Local 218 represented employees and their families aligned with the one provided to Bell Helicopter’s non-bargained employees.”

Company officials did not respond to a request for clarification on the proposed wage increases or a request for comment on whether reduced job classifications would spur layoffs.

Because negotiations are ongoing, it’s “inappropriate” to discuss further details publicly, Schroeder said in a statement earlier this week.

Yamil Berard

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