Votes are in for Alcoa, United Steelworkers negotiations
June 24, 2010 at 1:24 a.m.
POINT COMFORT - A steady stream of people made their way to the tan building that houses Point Comfort's United Steelworkers union office, passing through the glass door, filling out a slip and casting votes that could affect their company's future.
On Thursday, members from local United Steelworkers unions nationwide voted on issues presented during negotiations between the union and Alcoa.
The Point Comfort vote ran from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., said Mike Cabrera, president of the local union, but final results wouldn't be determined until after a conference call between all union master sites about 10:45 p.m.
The local union branch boasts about 400 members, he said, but there are about 5,800 altogether.
Ongoing negotiations honed in on two main issues, Cabrera said.
With benefits, Alcoa originally planned to offer a different package to new hires than what current employees receive. After revisions, however, if the union approve the changes, all employees will find themselves on the same playing field.
Wages were another issue, Cabrera said.
The proposed plan looks at adding more money for insurance and wages, he said, explaining the union didn't get exactly what it wanted in that stage of negotiations.
Point Comfort's Alcoa site sits in a unique situation when compared to other locations, simply because it is near other area plants, he said. Increased wages would help the site remain competitive.
"People are looking to match more dollar for dollar with some of the other locations that we have around here," he said.
Billy Reagan, who works as an R-10 operator with Alcoa, said he hopes the issues pass. Especially in today's economy, he said the changes would help.
"I figure every vote counts," Reagan said, explaining he went in to vote on his day off. "Especially for something like this."
Putting the issue to a vote means that whatever a majority of the people hope will happen will come to fruition, said Rem McGehee, a general mechanic with Alcoa.
McGehee made his way out to vote about 10:30 a.m. Thursday but declined comment regarding how he voted. He said it was good, however, to make his voice heard.
"I'm just hoping that whatever needs to happen is going to happen," he said. "I want what's best for the employees."
Negotiations have been ongoing since April, Cabrera said, and he was unsure exactly what would happen if the union voted down the issues. In May, the original plan was to lock the gates.
"Nobody has said whether they're going to do that this time or not," he said. "We're still kind of under the understanding that may happen."
If so, Cabrera said the union already has an agreement with Alcoa's Point Comfort operations that the plant would perform an orderly shutdown.
"And that could possibly take up to three to four days," he said. "And then, after that, then we walk out."
Representatives with Alcoa's local plant deferred comment to the company's corporate office.
Alcoa's corporate office will not have anything to say until it learns the outcome of the union vote, said Mike Belwood, a company spokesman.
"The process is in the hands of the union locals," he said, "and we are going to await the results of that vote."
No decision had been reached at the time the paper went to press.