By Leila Beem Núñez, Editor
Dozens of Batesville Casket Company employees, most members of the local steelworkers union, held rallies last week outside the plant in Manchester to protest what they feel are unfair items in a contract being negotiated between Batesville and its workers.
Retirement pay, wages for skilled workers, health insurance, time off and shift durations were just some of the issues many workers at a rally last Thursday (Aug. 24) expressed they had with the contract in its current form.
“It’s just a lot of things that at this point are going to make it very difficult to get a contract ratified. I know it’s a little early in the process, but we’ve only got about two more days to negotiate, so it’s very concerning that we may not be able to get there,” said Pat Carr, president of United Steelworkers Local 9137 on Thursday.
A proposal is set to be vote upon by union members Sept. 1.
One of the elemental problems the union has with the contract is the pay rate for skilled workers.
“The pay rate for the skilled workers, they’ve kind of ignored that over the years, and we’re trying to get them to catch back up to be competitive with other people in the area,” Carr said.
Rebecca Keck, a Batesville employee of almost six years who attended the rally Thursday, said she felt the company was being unfair in its negotiations, not acknowledging nearly 40 days this year her day shift was cut short due to failures in equipment.
“Thirty-nine days this year of not getting our eight hours a day. What happens is, if something goes down, they send us all home. We come in late and go home early and yet they want to talk about absenteeism,” Keck said. “This is the third day this week we’ve either come in late or gone home early, or both. We can’t even get a full day’s work.”
Batesville’s absenteeism policy, Carr added, was another issue the union was trying to change. On a point system, workers get points deducted from a starting amount of 80 points with every day they take off. As the contract stands now, the company is looking to start new hires out at 65 points. Carr said that while more established employees have the option of going on leave through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act program, new hires don’t have that option until they become permanent employees after a year probationary period. In the new contract Batesville is also proposing to reduce unpenalized emergency room visits from three to one.
“We’ve got lives outside of Batesville Casket. If we get sick, we’ve got to have our jobs. If you come down with a serious illness, five points a day is serious. They’re wanting to go to 20 points [deducted] if you call in on Saturday and 20 points deducted if you call in Sunday,” Carr said, adding that he felt the deductions of points often forces workers to go on the federal leave program. “If you think about it, [new hires] don’t have FMLA for a year. So, if something happens, they have a serious illness, they’re out of luck.”
Eddie Sims, an employee of 39 years, said he was mainly concerned with Batesville’s retirement pay. He added that new hires get a 401k plan but no pension.
“My main issue is retirement,” Sims said. “The older people probably want more retirement, more money on the hour instead of bonuses. We’ve got guys in there who are 72, 73 years old who are afraid to retire.”
Carr said it is unclear whether there would be a work stoppage if the proposal is rejected this week, though he said it would be a last resort and something to be avoided.
“We want to work, we want to keep our jobs, but also, be fair to us,” Carr said. “That’s all we want, and not only for us, but the people coming in now, the future of the plant.”
Carr said he hopes both sides could come to a compromise, and stressed that most issues workers have are not with local management of the plant but with corporate rules.