USW Evonik Members at Weston Plant Gain Substantial Wage Increases

This article originally appeared in Issue 11 of Chemical Solutions.

Local 7237-05 members at Evonik Industries AG’s (Evonik) Weston, Mich., facility ratified a new three-year contract with substantial wage increases on Feb. 1, 2018. The agreement covers 25 employees.

Maintenance workers will receive wage increases of 5.5 percent the first year and 2 percent the second and third years. Operators and shipping/receiving workers will receive a 4 percent increase the first year and two percent increases in the second and third years. All workers received a $350 lump sum upon ratification.

The agreement contained a guarantee that Evonik would not randomly shift work schedules. Workers will have company health insurance like the other Evonik locations. The new contract expires Feb. 1, 2021.

History of Underpayment

Silbond Corp., the site’s previous owner, froze employee wages for five years, except for quarterly lump sum payments. Local 7237-05 unit chair Mark Navarro said the company did this to continue operations. He said that workers received small wage increases after the wage freeze ended.

When Evonik acquired Silbond in 2014, it inherited the low wage scale.

“Maintenance was severely underpaid for being a trade occupation in this area,” said Local 7237 President Julia Loar.

“The maintenance people the company had didn’t want to stay, and the plant had trouble hiring at the current rate. The union wanted to raise wages so the maintenance workers would stay.”

Union negotiators successfully increased the starting wage by $3 an hour. Loar said this helped three new hires and enabled Evonik to attract qualified applicants.

Difficult Bargaining

Bargaining the wage increases and a new contract was difficult because Evonik corporate management played hardball for 90 days, Navarro and Loar said. This prompted contract extensions after the agreement expired on Oct. 20, 2017.

Members rejected the company’s first offer of 3.5 percent, 1.5 percent and 1.5 percent wage increases each year. After management offered higher increases, the membership ratified the contract.

“Obtaining an 8 percent wage increase over three years isn’t bad,” Navarro said. “I hope this contract is a stepping stone, and I hope we get along with management better.”

Union solidarity from the Evonik Council helped. Council members wore support stickers. Local 7237-05 members placed car signs on their dashboards and windows to show solidarity to plant management. The local also used text messages to keep members abreast of negotiation developments.

“These actions made an impact during negotiations,” Loar said.

She hopes the plant will expand.

“At least Evonik plans on future investments at the site and this gives us hope for the next round of bargaining,” Loar said.

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