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RMI union leaders mulling contract vote



Published: Thu, August 26, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



Workers have been locked out of the titanium mill since last October.

By CYNTHIA VINARSKY

VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER

WEATHERSFIELD -- Union leaders representing 360 locked-out workers at RMI Titanium were to decide this morning whether to call for a new membership vote on the company's most recent contract offer.

That offer has changed little since July 2, said Todd Weddell, president of United Steelworkers of America Locals 2155 and 2155-7. The most recent bargaining session, held Tuesday, ended with no change.

"It's their way or no way," Weddell said.

Though Weddell said workers have "stood their ground," even with the lockout in its 10th month, leaders may decide it's time to give the membership a chance to vote.

He planned to meet with members of the bargaining committee this morning and to announce their decision at an informational meeting for members at 4 p.m. today at the USWA Local 1375 hall in Warren. The RMI local's union hall in Niles is too small to accommodate the membership.

What happened

Members of Locals 2155 and 2155-7 rejected what the company called its final contract offer by a vote of 177 to 110 on Oct. 26, and the company refused to let workers enter the plant the next day.

Salaried workers have been operating the plant since then, and union members have been manning informational pickets outside the plant.

David Paull, vice president of administration for RTI International Metals, RMI's parent company, could not be reached to comment Wednesday.

Paull said in July, however, that RMI was calling for a wage freeze for the first three years of a five-year contract, with hourly raises of 30 cents and 35 cents in the fourth and fifth years, respectively. RMI workers averaged $16 an hour before the lockout.

The union had been asking for raises of 50 cents in both the fourth and fifth years, Weddell said, adding that the company has not increased its offer.

The union also had asked the company to reinstate vacation pay for 2005 that workers forfeited in July under terms of their expired agreement. The company has not agreed, Weddell said.

Finally, he said the company is now insisting that all workers, including those who might have suffered a serious injury or illness during the lockout, must pass a physical before they can return to work. The union opposes the proposed restriction.

If union leaders agree to call for a vote for the first time since the October contract rejection, Weddell said, it would likely take "a couple days" to line up a location and get ballots prepared.

Weddell said 12 union members have retired since the lockout began. About 50 percent of the members have found other employment, he said, but many would likely return to RMI if they could.

vinarsky@vindy.com




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