Milbank Manufacturing has locked out hourly workers at its Concordia, Mo., plant after contract negotiations reached an impasse, but negotiators are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Friday.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 124 represents 104 employees whose labor contract had expired in July. The workers had continued working under a contract extension until Sept. 27, when the company locked them out.
Ralph Oropeza, business representative for the local, said the lockout is a hardship for the workers who earn between $14 and $16 an hour. He said the members generally want to earn $1.50 or $2 an hour more in order to reach parity with comparable workers in Milbank’s Kansas City plant.
The Kansas City workers are represented by a different union that successfully negotiated its most recent contract.
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Jeffrey Fraser, an attorney representing Milbank in the Concordia negotiations, said the union hasn’t been specific enough in its negotiations to make it clear what the members want. He said the company is offering a 3 percent raise, holding employees’ health insurance costs steady in the first year of the a three-year contract, and capping insurance cost increases in years two and three.
Pete Raya, another union business representative, said other union issues include the proposed takeaway of “emergency vacation” days. He said the union also objects to Milbank practices in which younger workers receive cross-training that’s not offered to older workers.
Oropeza said members “absolutely, flat-out reject the loss” of emergency vacation days, which allow them to take a day off without the usual requirement to schedule time off in advance. He said the emergency days are important in a rural community like Concordia, because workers sometimes have to take days off to get medical attention in Kansas City for themselves or family members.
Fraser said he hopes the return to the bargaining table will help the company understand if union members have unanimity. He said the union’s rejections of previous offers haven’t clarified “what the issue really is” as far as management is concerned.
Meanwhile, Oropeza said the loss of pay — and particularly the cutoff of employee health benefits — is creating financial and health hardships on the membership. He said the wife of one employee, in line for a kidney transplant, will be unable to accept one if it becomes available unless her insurance is reinstated.