By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
WEATHERSFIELD -- Union leaders say they'll try to stay neutral as the 360 locked-out RMI Titanium workers they represent prepare to vote on a five-year contract proposal Monday.
The vote will be the first since workers rejected what the company called its "final offer" last October and found the gates to the mill locked the next day. The lockout is in its 11th month.
Voting is set for 2 to 5:30 p.m. Monday at the union hall in Niles for production and maintenance workers, members of United Steelworkers of America Local 2155. Clerical and technical workers, members of USWA Local 2155-7, will vote from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
"We've taken a position of neutrality," said Ray Raschilla Jr., unit chairman of Local 2155-7 and a member of the union bargaining committee.
"We haven't reached a tentative agreement, so we're not endorsing it. There's been no negotiations. The company has basically starved us out.
"But we're not going to tell them to vote it down, either. Basically, we just want to let the workers take some ownership for where they go from here."
Richard Leone, spokesman for RMI and its parent company RTI International Metals, declined to comment.
Raschilla said the proposed five-year pact includes union concessions worth $3 million to $3.5 million to the company. Todd Weddell, president of Local 2155, has said the proposal has changed little since early July.
The proposal calls for a three-year wage freeze, followed by pay 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 accepted the three-year freeze but had been asking for 50-cent raises in the fourth and fifth years.
Workers would forfeit all their vacation pay for 2005 under terms of their expired agreement. The company refused their effort to reinstate the lost vacation.
All returning workers would be required to complete a medical history questionnaire and anyone who reported an injury or illness during the lockout would have to pass a physical to return to work. Those who fail the physical would be laid off with no health insurance coverage, Raschilla said.
"It's a slap in the face to our most senior workers, those with 25 years of service and up. They're the ones with the most health problems," Raschilla said. "That could be the deal breaker."
The union wanted workers who failed the physical to be put on sick leave, Raschilla said, as they were when the locals returned to work after a 61/2-month strike in 1999.
Raschilla said union leaders have not been told when workers would return to the job if they do approve the company's offer Monday. Workers returning after the 1998-99 strike were brought back over a four-week span.