Amcor workers voting on new contract

A possible strike has been delayed, and union workers at Amcor are now voting on a revised contract proposal from the company that will provide a $1,000 signing bonus if the contract is ratified by 11 tonight.

Voting is underway through today and will be tabulated by 9 p.m., said Kirk Smith, president of Workers United Local 1426. There are about 460 union members.

The contract was to have expired at 11 p.m. Wednesday, but the union agreed to a two-day extension because the company made a revised offer.

“If it’s voted down, we’ll be on strike starting at 11 p.m.,” he said.

Smith was critical of the company, which purchased Bemis two years ago. “They put in a new management team in our plant and they have come straight after the workers,” he said.

“They downsized us by 90 people. They’ve doubled our workload and they have dehumanized and devalued the workers. It’s like we’re machines or robots and nobody matters,” he said.

The initial company proposal “was so insulting we would have lost things we’ve bargained for the last 40 years in our contract,” he said. The company wanted mandatory overtime; they wanted to take away premium pay for working weekends and they wanted to end time-and-a-half for holidays. 

“Everybody in the union was furious,” he said. “We came together and unified.” That proposal was overwhelmingly rejected.

Bargaining has continued. “We haven’t asked for anything extraordinary,” Smith said. “We saved this company. We worked through a global pandemic.”

He says the plant is “critically understaffed” to the point where it puts worker safety in jeopardy.

“This will be the first time the pension will not raise each year and they said they aren’t interested in having a pension plan for the workers anymore,” Smith said. “They admitted they have plenty of money but they aren’t willing to spend it on labor.”

Mark Hein,  Amcor North America  director of communications, stated, “We recognize the value of our employees in Terre Haute. They have worked very closely with our plant leadership to build a business that is developing and growing in a space that is fiercely competitive.”

With so many competitors, the fact “they have a growing business is a tribute to their work,” he said.

The contract being negotiated was originally scheduled to expire Wednesday night; union membership voted down the original tentative agreement. On Wednesday, “We spent time with the union negotiating team, addressing what was most important to our colleagues — essentially restructuring the deal,” Hein said. 

Amcor understands a strike is a possibility. “We’ve worked hard to build relationships with our customers and to make this a growing business. A strike could have a negative impact on our customer relationships,” Hein said. 

The company “has an obligation to deliver for our customers, so we are taking precautionary steps to guard against the impact of a strike,” Hein said.

The new tentative agreement does have a $1,000 signing bonus if they ratify no later than 11 p.m. Friday. “I believe there a number of other economic and non-economic factors that are part of that agreement we think are what they’ve been asking for .... It’s a good contract,” and it includes a wage increase, Hein said.  

Wages would increase 3% the first year, 2.5% the second year and 2.85% the third year.

He said the company is trying to hire at the facility. “We have had with the starting wage a little bit of trouble being competitive, but we are in a hiring position at this facility. We are not cutting jobs at all,” he said.

Hein also challenged union assertions that working conditions in the plant are not safe. The company has invested in safety, including ergonomic investments that reduce movement and the amount of physical work and help reduce injuries, he said.

Smith said while the contract includes wage increases, health insurance costs have been “eating up” those increases.

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

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