A hard-working negotiating team, a little bit of creativity and a determined bargaining unit was all it took to get more than 430 members of IAM Local 2525 a new six-year contract with agricultural and construction equipment-maker Case New Holland (CNH) in Fargo, ND.
The proposal passed with an overwhelming 87 percent vote Saturday, April, 28 – but not without some serious work, ingenuity, and solidarity from the bargaining table to the shop floor.
For three weeks, the Committee, who underwent hours of Negotiation Preparation Training at the IAM William W. Winpisinger Center, stood strong against the company’s futile attempts to bargain in bad faith and gut key language from the contract.
“The company wanted to eliminate recall rights, eliminate double time after 60 hours, and change seniority language,” said IAM Midwest Territory Grand Lodge Representative and lead negotiator Shannon Stucker. “By the end of the week, the company didn’t get the big items they were wanting and we secured no mandatory overtime for all Sundays.”
But in the final week of negotiations when the company attempted to go after the IAM National Pension Fund and the IAM Benefit Trust health insurance, replacing them with a 401k and a healthcare plan barely above penalty levels under the Affordable Care Act, the Committee had had enough.
“First, we sent out a mass text to the members that the company was trying to take away their pension and health care. The message was get ready to fight; the company wants your pension and health care gone,” said Stucker. “Then we had the Midwest Territory office submit a ‘bad faith’ bargaining charge with the National Labor Relations Board. Finally, we decided how we were going to counter the company and prepare for a strike.”
Upon receiving word that the company was not bargaining in good faith, members of the Local 2525 bargaining unit decided they were not going to take the news lying down. They took it upon themselves to show management exactly what they thought of the company’s 401k and health care proposal.
“The impact was almost instantaneous,” said Bargaining Committee member Jeremy Pearson. “We began to receive phone calls from stewards, strike captains, and even the company’s lead negotiator himself to see what was going on.
“It seems as though our members immediately began telling every member of management exactly how they felt about their pension and health insurance. They held end of line meetings and large rallies during breaks that day and the remaining days up until ratification. During these meetings, which were held outside the supervisors’ offices, members would yell and chant things like, we deserve better, and we are worth more.
“The company’s lead negotiator sent members of his team to the shop to assess the mood on the floor. Those people were stopped over and over again and told to get back to the table and give us a good contract, and even asked by one 44-year member if they could ‘pull this knife out of my back.’”
“One morning the east and the west end of the shop, which have been historically divided, met during break in the middle of the shop and held a giant rally in which they used a speaker and microphone brought in by another member. This was the turning point in the negotiations. CNH came back to the table and the pension and health care were back in.”
The successfully-ratified six-year agreement includes above average wage increases, IAM health care, a $0.50 pension increase, which will take them to $2.30 per hour by the end of the contract, a $1,500 appreciation bonus, along with the previously mentioned language changes on overtime and shift preference.
“With all my years of experience in negotiations, this is no doubt the best Committee I have worked with,” said Stucker. “The stress they experienced was mountainous and they took it head on. We anticipated a very radical ratification meeting, but to our surprise, the Committee and I had at least four standing ovations on the language changes. When we got into the economic portion, we received two more standing ovations.”
“This is the first time I had a shop and stewards take on the task of organizing concerted activity on the shop floor during negotiations. They ran with it. We must have had at least a hundred people or more thank us for a job well done and express their gratitude. We informed them that they are the ones who made it possible and that we should be thanking them. I’m very proud of the Local for their solidarity and support, the Committee for their leadership, and the Midwest Territory and Grand Lodge for all their resources.”
“The company made the fatal mistake of thinking the committee was ‘bluffing’ when we informed them what our membership would and wouldn’t be willing to accept,” said Pearson, “and our members showed them that they definitely were not bluffing. This was a glaring example of what a Union is supposed to be, showing that solidarity is more than a word printed on our t-shirts. When we stand together we can accomplish many things that would be impossible on our own and I believe that the membership finally sees that. Many new young leaders were established in these negotiations, involvement was increased, ownership was taken, and an acceptable contract was successfully ratified.”
“Thank you to IAM Midwest Territory Grand Lodge Representative Shannon Stucker and the entire Bargaining Committee for taking the lead on these negotiations. Your strength and preparedness was second to none,” said IAM Midwest Territory General Vice President Philip J. Gruber. “And congratulations to the members of IAM Local 2525. You personified what so many workers take for granted these days, especially in a Right to Work state like North Dakota – and that’s your collective power as a union.
“Together you channeled all of your individual might into one force, forcing management to move. And they did. That speaks to the very core of what it truly means to be union. Your union couldn’t be more proud.”