Arconic workers denounce United Steelworkers contract proposal

The anger of aluminum workers at the Arconic facilities continues to boil over after the United Steelworkers (USW) proposed a contract deal that will effectively reduce their wages over the duration of the four-year deal. The tentative agreement, which covers workers at factories in Iowa, Tennessee, Indiana and New York, was announced by the USW on May 15, shortly after workers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the strike. Workers will vote on the contract on June 1.

Aluminum workers hold a rally at the Davenport Works plant in Riverdale, Iowa [Photo: WSWS]

“The USW immediately approved a tentative agreement for a 20.5% salary increase, but failed to mention that an average of 6% PFP (performance pay) was taken,” said Chuck, a Iowa Arconic worker at the WSWS. “They gave with one hand and with the slide with the other they took away 6%. Meanwhile, the union announced to the local community: “We got a 20.5% raise.” These are lies, all lies.

“I’m not happy with the contract,” said Jack, another worker from Iowa. “I believe that salary increases are not enough to justify the abolition of the pay-for-performance system. I realize that the pay-for-performance system has its flaws in its current state, but it still averages 5% per year or more overall.

“I would much rather see performance pay renegotiated to a fixed wording with fixed numbers or percentages that can be audited,” he added. “The current system allows the company to control all formulated values, which allowed them to strip us of our incentive pay despite having a very profitable quarter.”

Jack also talked about the impact of rising prices. “Inflation at its current rate of around 8.3% to 8.5% adds a ton to annual costs. You add thousands in living expenses every year.

“There has been no change in health care overall and that’s a good thing. But I can almost guarantee that they will try to raise health care costs in the next contract. There is an “essential worker” bonus paid this year and next (for corporate tax purposes), but no signing bonus. It’s a slap in the face for anyone who went in and risked making their families sick in 2020 and 2021. It would almost seem like $4,000 was worth all that risk.

After attending Steelworkers union meetings on the contract, Jack said, “I left quite upset that we couldn’t really get our questions answered properly. I don’t think they really understand the implications of removing the PFP, especially with the increase and inflation. I’m going to vote no.”

Social media workers have also spoken out in opposition to the surrender deal. One worker described the demands he thinks workers should be fighting for: “1. Keep the PFP 2. $5,000 signing bonus 3. At least $5,000 in essential worker pay with both the signing bonus and essential worker pay paid immediately upon contract ratification. 4. 10% increase each year for the four years, which ultimately means 40% by the end of the contract.

Another said workers should prepare to go out. “The way I see it is that even if we vote ‘no’, the union will resume negotiations, but we will continue to work to make more money for the company. What good is the strike authorization vote if we don’t use it??? We should go on strike right after the votes are counted.

While workers are outraged by the contract proposal, the USW is working closely with the Biden administration to ensure wages stay low. In March, USW President Tom Conway boasted that the union had imposed a “responsible contract” on 30,000 oil refinery workers that “did not add to inflationary pressures”. The rotten deal included a 2.5% raise for 2022 and an average annual raise of 3% over four years.

The USW has spent decades colluding with the steel and aluminum bosses in destroying the jobs, living standards, working conditions and pensions of hundreds of thousands of workers.

Workers, however, are increasingly willing to fight based on their needs, not what the USW or the company tells them they can afford.

But the critical element needed for workers to win is leadership and organization. It means taking the fight into their own hands by forming rank-and-file factory committees to campaign for the defeat of this sell-out contract, articulating their own demands and preparing strike action to win them. Workers in various industries have already started to embrace this initiative, including at John Deere, Volvo Mack, CNH and many other areas of struggle. We encourage all Arconic workers interested in forming a rank-and-file committee to contact us today.

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