TEXARKANA, Ark.—The new contract between Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and the union local staffing its Texarkana tire plant will give the members wage, cost-of-living allowance and pension increases.
But for the first time, members of United Steelworkers of America Local 752 will pay medical insurance premiums and co-payments.
The local ratified a five-year deal with Cooper April 10, ending a strike that began March 12. The vote was relatively tight—708 for, 632 against—likely a refection of the hourly employees´ wide range of emotions on the issues, said Mike Penney, a Local 752 member who served as its spokesman during the labor dispute.
"It was a hard-fought contract," he said. "There were a lot of emotions expressed in the vote."
The biggest sticking point in negotiations was health care. The company came down from previous offers on the workers´ out-of-pocket expenses, but would not allow the union to deflect proposed wage increases toward insurance premiums, Penney said.
Cooper agreed to redirect that money in the previous three-year contract, which expired March 6.
The new premium levels are about $9.20 per week for a single person, $15.80 for a single-plus and $22.42 for a family, he said. Local 752´s 1,700 members also will pay more for prescription drugs.
Other highlights of the contract, which runs from April 10 through April 9, 2010, include:
* wage increases of 10 cents per hour each year for the length of the pact;
* annual COLA increases, capped at 15 cents an hour the first two years and 25 cents the next three years;
* a $3 increase in the monthly pension multiplier to $54.50 per year of service for the first two years, then an annual $1 bump up to $57.50 in year five; and
* a change in job bidding allowing senior union members to get the first crack at open premium jobs, as well as the opening created when that first one is filled. The company can fill the second opening with new hires or utility workers for non-premium positions, Penney said.
Conditions in Texarkana are "beginning to settle down" after the strike, Penney said. The plant was back up to full production as of 7 p.m. April 12, and those workers who hadn´t returned to work yet were on their way back, he said.
Cooper halted tire production in Texarkana after the strike started, but the first union workers returned to the job the morning of April 11.
Roger Hendriksen, Cooper´s director of investment relations and corporate communications, said he had nothing to add to the company´s April 11 news release announcing the contract´s ratification. The Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker did estimate the negative financial impact of the strike during the first quarter to be in the range of 5 to 7 cents per share.
The Texarkana plant produces about 40,000 radial passenger and light truck tires per day at capacity, the firm said.
Cooper now has labor peace at its two U.S. unionized sites. The company and the USWA have a separate contract for hourly workers at the firm´s Findlay plant, which runs through October 2008.
In Texarkana, the company and union reached their tentative agreement April 6. The two sides hadn´t met since a federal mediator was brought in March 24. Talks broke off afterwards and there was a "complete deadlock" in negotiations, said Don Davies, staff representative for USWA District 12.
The mediator called for another meeting the week of April 4, and the two sides decided to meet early on April 6 before the mediator arrived, he said. The negotiators then worked out the tentative pact without the mediator´s help, Davies said.