Solvay Locals Settle Contracts, Begin Resolving Health and Safety Concerns

When the Solvay Council met last October in Tinley Park, Ill., delegates discussed their health and safety concerns, local union issues and problems they were having getting contracts settled. Since then, three contracts have been ratified, and the International has met with Solvay management to address the workers’ health and safety concerns.

Three USW contracts have been settled this year (Pasadena, Texas, University Park, Ill., and Baltimore, Maryland) thanks to a change in Solvay’s North American industrial relations team.  

Pasadena, Texas

The 20-member Local 13-227 bargaining unit at Solvay’s Pasadena, Texas, plant ratified their first contract in January after organizing in November 2017. After Solvay’s chief labor relations negotiator left the company in January, the new local was able to negotiate a three-year contract that contained a non-pensionable $1,600 ratification bonus and wage increases of 3 percent the first year and 2.6 percent the second and third years.

Union negotiators beat back the company’s attempt to force concessions on their Solvay short-term disability and 401(k) plans. They also gained protections around job security, contracting out of USW work, work hours that cannot be changed arbitrarily and a discipline procedure.

Before creating their union, the members had difficulty getting time off due to excessive overtime and short staffing. Now, they have a contract that gives them personal, emergency and Family Medical Leave Act time off, unpaid leave of absence, and vacation and holiday time.

The current challenge for the Pasadena unit is dealing with managers who believe that if an issue is not in the contract, it is null and void, instead of looking at company policy. The local is filing grievances to address this problem.                                          

University Park

Local 2011 members at Solvay’s University Park, Ill., plant also ratified a three-year agreement in January. It contained a 3 percent lump sum the first year and 3 percent wage increases in each of the last two years. 

The 75 production and maintenance workers maintained their health insurance, and received an increase in the company’s 401(k) match. They also have additional time for union education and training, which they did not have previously.

Local 2011 President Tom Hecht said the members rejected the first two company offers because the company’s cross-training proposal would knock out overtime. Solvay countered with an improved wage package in its third offer, and the members accepted it.

The contract contains a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that moves two members into different positions they were qualified to handle. A second MOU specifies that material handlers receive cross-training to perform liquid packaging duties. Once qualified, they earn a premium of $1 per hour while performing the extra work.

Baltimore

In March, Local 12517-05 members at Solvay’s Baltimore, Maryland, plant ratified a three-year agreement that contained a $700 signing bonus and wage increases each year of about 3 percent. The 35 workers in production, the warehouse and maintenance will now earn time-and-a-half pay on Saturdays and double-time on Sundays without having to clock in a certain number of hours and days the previous workweek.

Local union negotiators maintained the retirement security gains made two contracts ago, as well as their health insurance. Solvay provides a 9 percent match on the 401(k) and up to 4 percent (depending on a worker’s age) for the cash balance pension.

The local union also improved bereavement leave for employees working 12-hour days, negotiated a USW political action fund checkoff for voluntary donations, and created a new-hire orientation program to introduce new employees to the union.

The local’s negotiators also tightened up job bid language so existing employees can be promoted before someone is hired from the outside, and negotiated a warehouse position where Solvay will reimburse an employee for training and passing the commercial driver’s license test. The company will also pay for the license.

Plus, the local rolled into the contract the provisions of the Maryland Healthy Workers Act that gives employees the ability to earn 40 hours of paid sick leave in a year, which can be used in four-hour increments. The local succeeded in getting the earned hours credited at the beginning of the year.

Three more Solvay sites have contract expirations this year: Alton, Ill., in July 2019; Marietta, Ohio, in October 2019, and Chicago Heights, Ill., in November 2019.

Improving Health & Safety

At the October Solvay Council meeting, delegates brought up numerous health and safety concerns ranging from manual lifting and stitching of 50-lb. bags of product to near misses being covered up and used to discipline workers. This prompted the International to set up a meeting in March with members of Solvay’s industrial relations corporate and North American management team to discuss these concerns and map a path forward.

After hearing how Solvay locals are having difficulty getting local management approval to attend the USW’s health, safety and environment conference, the company committed itself to looking into this issue so that its employees can receive the health and safety training they need to make their workplaces safer.

Solvay Global Forum

Solvay negotiated a Global Framework Agreement (GFA) with IndustriALL that commits the company to follow internationally recognized labor, human rights and environmental standards at all of its sites, regardless of whether or not these measures are required by national law or regulations.

The GFA created the Solvay Global Forum, a group of eight union and three management representatives, who conduct annual country evaluations and visit the sites in that region to see how well the GFA is implemented, propose solutions for improvement, and extend the social dialogue between the company and its employees.

In March, the Solvay Global Forum visited the company’s sites in Mexico and talked with local management and union leaders. The delegation learned that the union at each site did not have a way to communicate with the Forum or with each other, so a new laptop computer was recommended for each local union. In addition, the Forum requested email addresses and work space for the union representatives at each site.

These items are being put in place now, and Jeff Hill, a USW Local 14200 member and U.S. representative on the Forum, said he is starting to receive communication from the Mexican union representatives.

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