Bell, UAW set new talks after union again rejects contract

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Contract negotiations between Bell Helicopter and United Auto Workers Local 218 are set to resume Thursday, almost three weeks after union members soundly rejected a second company proposal.

The production workers have been on the job without a contract since June 9, when they rejected the company’s initial “best-offer” proposal. More than 1,400 members voted down an alternative proposal Aug. 18, according to the union’s website.

The two sides are divided over work schedules, overtime pay, healthcare and pension benefits, several UAW members told the Star-Telegram. The workweek dispute involves a change that would limit emplyees’ ability to collect additional overtime pay on some weekends and holidays, several workers said.

Workers have also objected to sharp increases in healthcare premiums, and to a lesser degree, a proposed change in pension payments. New employees would be part of a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan rather than the traditional defined-benefit pension.

“The general consensus is that the company came out with an offer and we pretty much rejected it hands-down,” said a seven-year Bell machinist who did not want to be identified. “The company just doesn’t want to talk about those three or four things.”

In an Aug. 15 letter to the union’s bargaining committee, Bell President and CEO John Garrison said the company didn’t anticipate changing its position on the “four critical items.” Garrison did not detail the items, and the company did not provide more information.

The company cannot concede on those items “if it is to remain competitive,” Garrison wrote.

Garrison also said statements that the company has refused to talk about those items “could not be further from the truth.”

The company has “in fact, negotiated on these items — not only by discussing them with you, the bargaining committee, but also by accepting changes requested by the union and by giving up or withdrawing other cost-saving concessions and proposals,” Garrison said.

The company’s last proposal withdrew a plan to consolidate dozens of job classifications, from packers to forklift operators, which union officials feared would trigger dozens of layoffs.

The proposal that was rejected Aug. 18 also contained a $3,000 signing bonus and “industry-leading pay and benefits,” Garrison said. Bell has said it has some of the “most highly compensated employees in the aviation and defense industry.” According to the proposed contract, the union workers, on average, earn base rates of more than $66,518 a year.

The union members include more than 2,500 Bell machinists, forklift operators and other hourly employees. Bell employs about 7,000 workers in Tarrant County.

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard

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