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Arconic union workers overwhelmingly approve strike authorization

USW says the vote was unanimous. Now, union leaders could authorize a strike if a tentative contract agreement isn't reached by noon on May 15.

BETTENDORF, Iowa — The United Steelworkers Union says its Arconic workers have overwhelmingly voted in favor of authorizing a strike if a tentative contract agreement cannot be reached by noon on Sunday. 

Local 105 Guide Lee Shaffer says USW members in four states unanimously passed the authorization, giving power to union leaders to call for a strike if needed. The company and the union have until noon on May 15 to reach an agreement. 

USW has just under 3,400 members at four Arconic plants. The largest, by far, is the Davenport Works location in Riverdale, Iowa. According to both the union and the company, more than 1,800 of its nearly 2,400 workers at that location are USW members at Local 105. 

Roughly 800 out of 1,030 Arconic employees in Alcoa, Tennessee, belong to Local 309. Over in Lafayette, Indiana, just under 600 members out of 700 Arconic workers make up Local 115. And in Massena, New York, Local 402A has 125 members out of the company's 160 local employees. 

"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." 

An Arconic spokesperson made the following statement Tuesday regarding the authorization vote:

"Arconic is aware that the USW plans to hold a strike authorization vote, which is a normal step in the bargaining process. We believe we can reach an agreement that is in the best interest of our employees and look forward to continuing negotiations at the bargaining table."

USW has been in negotiations in Pittsburgh since April 26, according to Shaffer. The last contract between the steelworkers and Arconic was solidified in 2019 and is set to expire on May 15. That contract gave workers a 3.5% wage increase per year and a $1,750 ratification bonus. 

This time around, workers say they want to be treated like the essential workers they were told they were. 

Employees continued working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and were even given letters when Illinois went into lockdown to show in case they were pulled over and needed to prove why they weren't following stay-at-home orders.

The union is pushing for better pay, health care and retirement. Members are also upset with the amount of forced overtime and a lack of pension benefit increases in 2019. USW says it also wants longer contracts and to be more involved in Arconic's safety process. 

Union representatives say the last time these particular USW members went on strike was in 1986 back when Arconic was Alcoa.

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

Ahead of Sunday's deadline, a Contract Countdown Rally is being organized by USW. On Saturday, May 14, members will walk from the union hall at 880 Devils Glen Road in Bettendorf to Arconic's main entrance at 4879 State St. in Riverdale. The rally will be from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

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