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Arconic workers want contract that treats them as essential workers, USW union rep. says

United Steelworkers Local 105 will vote Thursday whether or not to authorize a strike amid contract negotiations with Arconic.

RIVERDALE, Iowa — More than 3,000 Arconic workers represented by the United Steelworkers International Union are set to hold a strike authorization vote on Thursday, May 12. That includes around 1,800 who work at the Davenport Works facility in Riverdale. 

USW has been in negotiations in Pittsburgh since April 26, according to Local 105 Guide Lee Shaffer. The new contract will set wages and benefits for employees in Riverdale, as well as in Lafayette, Indianapolis; Massena, New York, and Alcoa, Tennessee.

The current three-year contract was signed in July 2019 and expires at noon on Sunday, May 15.

The vote will give leaders the ability to call a strike if they are unable to reach a tentative agreement by that time.

"We don't want to strike," Shaffer said. "But we're prepared to do what we got to do to get a fair contract. And that's the first step in this is the strike authorization vote."

A big sticking point, Shaffer said, is that workers were deemed essential at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and now want the new contract to reflect and treat them as essential workers. He said workers were given a letter when Illinois went into lockdown that they could show in case they were pulled over and needed to prove why they weren't following stay-at-home orders.

"We had members that got sick, we had some members that died because of the pandemic, because of COVID. We put our lives on the line to go out there during the pandemic and we need to be treated as essential because of that," Shaffer said. "We feel like we need a contract that represents being essential to include pay, health care, we want to keep the health care we have and improve, and then retirement benefits, we want to improve upon as well."

He added that workers want to be able to retire comfortably. Workers have also been unhappy with the amount of forced overtime.

During contract negotiations in 2019, union workers at Arconic also rallied for a better contract after Arconic proposed health care and retirement benefit cuts. The company proposed replacing pensions with 401K plans.

That contract was set to expire on May 15, 2019, and an agreement was not reached ahead of the deadline. After that, USW workers did vote to authorize a strike but continued to work under an extension until a deal was reached in July.

"Our retirement, the pension factors weren't raised last time in 2019, so I think that's more of a focus now," Shaffer said. "I think the pandemic taught a lot of people what we can live with and what we can't. So I think that kind of brought to light a lot of issues, especially with retirement that we want people to live more comfortably."

He said another frustration is that the contract was only three years long.

"That goes extremely fast. It feels like it just happened yesterday," Shaffer said. "That's kind of something that's in a lot of people's minds, too, that they want longer than a three-year contract, but we'll see how it goes."

Shaffer added that the union wants to be more involved with the safety process at the plants.

"I think there's been some progress on some safety language," he said about the current negotiations. "We want more of a voice where we actually are part of decision making or whatever that can help make it a safer place."

The expiring 2019 contract provided annual general wage increases of 3.5% each year. It maintained or improved existing benefits, such as supplemental unemployment and health care and retirement provisions. It also had a $1,750 ratification bonus.

The manufacturing company is one of the top 10 employers in the Quad Cities.

USW workers will cast their votes throughout the day Thursday at the Isle of Capri Conference Center in Bettendorf. 

A Contract Countdown Rally, organized by USW, is also scheduled to take place 4:30-7 p.m. Saturday, May 14. During the event, members will walk from the union hall at 880 Devils Glen Road in Bettendorf to the main entrance of the Arconic location at 4879 State St. in Riverdale.