Amcor, Workers United pact was no easy deal

While Workers United 1426 voted against Amcor's contract proposal July 2, a new contract was implemented, averting a strike.

In the process, three members of the union's executive board resigned, including the president, Kirk Smith.

On July 2, the union rejected for the second time the company's offer — with 59% of those voting favoring rejection. So how did the contract move forward?

"The contract got implemented. I'm not going to say it got voted in," Smith said earlier this week.

The three executive officers stepped down July 2 because "there is no way we could not vote the people's voice," Smith said.

After last Friday's second rejection, the company added another $500 to its initial ratification/signing bonus offer of $1,000, bringing the total to $1,500.

The union executive board voted 7 to 3 to ask the international to implement the contract, and an international representative agreed to do it only if the 1426 executive board unanimously agreed.

At that point, Smith and two other executive board officers resigned, leaving the seven remaining members to have the contract implemented, according to a communication from the union.

"This was an extremely difficult decision. There was not one of us that felt good after the decision was made," Jimmy Patterson, the union's sergeant at arms, wrote on a union local website. "We all completely understand the anger, betrayal, disappointment and all the other emotions everyone is feeling. We are feeling them, too."

Patterson added, "The solidarity that we have had over the last few weeks has been amazing, and is the only reason we have the contract that we have. ... I hope we can come back from this moment stronger together than ever and continue the fight for our working conditions and what will come in three years' time."

The new contract is through June 2024.

Patterson also wrote, "The final vote was not an overwhelming number. It was close with only 59% of the body rejecting the contract. With the vote being that low, the majority of the board was unwilling to lead the body into a failed strike.

"In 2009, the strike authorization passed with a 93% vote, and we still had a large number cross the line," Patterson wrote.

"If we went on strike and failed, we would most likely be going back into the plant with many of the items in the company’s first proposal implemented. After having the body stand up and back us in the fight against mandatory overtime and loss of premium pay, we could not in good conscience risk the contract we had fought so hard for," Patterson wrote.

The 1426 executive board "voted to implement what they felt was best for the union," Smith said. "I represent the people and their voice and their vote."

In a video posted on YouTube, Kathy Hanshew, manager of the international's Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board — which represents 12 states — explained what happened and why.

The regional joint board is affiliated with the international union of Workers United.

"I understand these are extremely challenging times and your lives have been difficult over the past couple of weeks, with a lot of stress and a lot of big decisions having to be made," Hanshew stated. "I also understand many of you are angry, frustrated, or possibly even confused as to where we are at and how we got here."

She confirmed a new, there-year contract is "in full force and effect through June 2024."

It was implemented following two contract rejections. The final contract was what the majority had rejected July 2, as well as an added $500 to the ratification bonus, making it $1,500.

After the second rejection, the 1426 executive committee contacted Hanshew, she said. They wanted to know what the next step should be.

Given the local executive board had told union members they would honor a strike vote, "We left the decision to them," Hanshew stated.

At the same time, "the executive committee of the joint board [international] advised against a strike, as the numbers of the vote did not reflect the conditions for a winnable strike." Also, the proposed contract package "was not a package warranting a strike," she stated.

She said she reached out to the company to inform them of the rejection to see if they had an interest in coming back to the table; the company said it would do so, but only if the union agreed to a seven-day contract extension, or "cooling off" period.

The decision about whether to strike or to have a seven-day cooling period was left to the executive board, she said. The executive board was "obviously divided."

After internal discussion, the executive board told Hanshew they wanted her to implement the contract — but the vote was 7-3. She consulted with the joint board and stated the only way she would take that "drastic step" was if the entire executive board agreed.

At that point, those opposed — including Smith, as well as the vice president and the recording secretary — resigned.

Hanshew then informed Amcor that "as manager of the [international] joint board, I would execute a new collective bargaining agreement on behalf of the local."

Hanshew further stated, "I do believe this was the best decision for the entire membership. No one should doubt that your executive board acted with all of your best interests at heart. The decision to go out on strike is potentially a life-altering decision and doing so under the current conditions of a package being the best in many years, could have potentially been an extremely costly mistake, something the executive board realized and they had the courage and leadership to make the decision they made."

"I stand by their decision and you should as well," Hanshew stated. She urged the members to unite and to "hold this company accountable to your contract."

Smith believes the membership voted the contract down because of inadequate staffing levels and also because of concerns about the future of the pension. Also, while wage increases "aren't bad at all," they could be offset by increased health insurance costs, he said.

He said he recognized union members "have to work with the company to service our customers and we're willing to do that. We just want to make sure the company takes a critical look at our staffing levels in that plant because I personally feel that it is becoming a health and safety issue."

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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