Members can be proud of four-year agreement that was two years in the making
WHAT BEGAN IN Feb. 2005 as early negotiations, finally ended some 25 months later with ratification of a four-year agreement for members of Local S8 (Equality, Ill.) at the Willow Lake Mine.
The contract with the Peabody Energies-owned mine in Harrisburg, Ill., expired Oct. 18, 2006. Despite a 175-to-1 vote to take strike action if necessary, the strike option was never utilized. Instead, members were able to secure an agreement, effective April 16, 2007, to April 15, 2011.
The new agreement increases wages in each contract year: $1.00 in year one, 75 cents in year two, and 55 cents in years three and four.
The contract also includes retroactive pay to Oct. 17, 2006; a wage incentive bonus program; portal-to-portal pay (the time a worker spends on the employer’s property), as well as donning and doffing pay (the time required to change into and out of work clothes); a 401(k) plan in which the company will match employee contributions dollar-for-dollar, with a minimum contribution of $125 and a maximum of $175 per month; improved health care (no employee co-pay); a safety bonus; a new floating holiday; a birthday holiday; one additional paid personal day; and a $200 per week sickness and accident benefit.
Solidarity is the key to success
RETIRED LOCAL S1978 PRESIDENT MIKE MURPHY was hired as a consultant to assist the Local S8 members when the contract expired last October.
“When I came on board, Local S8 had been involved in contract negotiation sessions since Feb. 2005,” Murphy explained. At one time, this Southern Illinois coal basin had a rich union tradition in the mining community. Several years ago, mining took a nosedive in this area and, along with it, the benefits that had been acquired over many years of hard work.
According to Murphy, Local S8 members were working under a substandard contract for the mining industry. The mine had been family owned. With corporate ownership (Peabody Energies) change came reductions in benefits, even though the coal industry has been rebounding.
The local elected an executive board and bargaining committee that “went to battle for their membership and brought their concerns to the International,” Murphy said. When Intl. Pres. Newton B. Jones became aware of the members’ plight, he assigned Research and Collective Bargaining Services Director Jim Pressley to help out.
Pressley met with Murphy and the committee, and attended a union meeting. On his recommendation, IP Jones assigned Intl. Rep Len Gunderson to service the lodge in February and assist in negotiations.
When Gunderson stepped in to help, he brought with him training programs for the officers, bargaining committee, and stewards, including Boilermakers solidarity program training.
“The negotiating committee was very dedicated and hard working,” Gunderson reported. “They did an outstanding job. Once we implemented the solidarity program, the gears shifted in negotiations with Peabody Energies.”
As part of their solidarity plan, the union bought ads in local and regional newspapers to let the public know of their problem getting a contract. Relatives and neighbors helped by voicing their opinions around town.
Local S8 members also wrote their state and federal legislators asking for assistance. Bridget Martin, director of the Boilermakers government affairs department, also wrote the legislators.
After AIP Mark Vandiver informed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) — one of the coal mine’s primary customers — about the contract dispute, TVA contacted Peabody Energies. Worried the dispute would interfere with their coal orders, TVA encouraged the mine to settle their labor differences.
In addition, the union put pressure on MSHA to be more aggressive enforcing citations for safety violations at the mine. Through the help of Boilermaker safety specialist Milan Racic, Local S8 filed several safety complaints with MSHA; some were dropped, but most were settled with the company paying fines.
The union also filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the company for bad faith bargaining. The union filed several grievances against the company as well.
“We tried to file as many [grievances] as possible in an effort to get the company to listen,” Gunderson said. “We then requested to bargain over those issues — such as overtime, and donning and doffing pay — which we did. We have over 50 [grievances] yet to settle.”
Then, on March 24, the union voted to strike. Media coverage of the strike threat, combined with the local’s other solidarity efforts, brought the company back to the bargaining table with significant changes in their proposal.
“Word spread like a wildfire that we were going on strike,” Gunderson said. “When the company finally called us back to the bargaining table, they said: ‘We need to get a contract. We are tired of hearing about a strike from our vendors, the media, and our customers.’”
With a good Solidarity Program in place, Local S8 members were able to secure a new four-year agreement, with benefits and wage gains that were long in the making. The contract was ratified on April 6 and signed May 8.