The workers of GE Transportation, which just completed its merger with Wabtec (NYSE: WAB), immediately went on strike to fight to keep their existing compensation package.
On Tuesday morning, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) announced that its approximately 1,700 members in Erie, Pennsylvania walked out of job.
UE failed to reach a short-term deal with Wabtec
According to the union, its representatives and Wabtec failed to reach a short-term agreement that preserves the benefits, salaries, and working conditions negotiated with their former employer, General Electric (NYSE: GE).
Wabtec implemented significant changes in the terms and conditions of its contract with UE Locals 506 and 618 when it took over GE Transportation on Monday. The changes included:
- mandatory overtime and arbitrary schedules
- wage reductions of up to 38 percent for recalled and newly-hired workers
- right to use temporary workers for up to 20 percent of the work in the plant
In a statement, Scott Slawson, President of UE Local 506, “We are extremely disappointed that the company could not see its way to agree to continue the terms and conditions that we have worked under for decades. Their refusal leaves us with no choice but to go out on strike to protect our members’ and our children’s future.”
Separately, UE Communications Director, Jonathan Kissam told CNN via e-mail, “The plant has been highly profitable under the existing GE contract. It’s really not clear to us why Wabtec is demanding such steep concessions.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders supports striking union workers
Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders expressed his support for the striking union workers in Pennsylvania.
In a tweet, Sanders said he is “proud to stand with the locomotive manufacturing workers” who are fighting for “decent wages and working conditions.”
Additionally, the Vermont senator stressed, “Americans are sick and tired of corporate America and their wealthy CEOs ripping off working families.”
In a letter to Wabtec CEO Raymond Betler on Friday, Sanders noted that the company is profitable. He said, “Let’s be clear, Wabtec is not a poor company. It is not going broke. Through the first three quarters of last year, Wabtec made a $256 million profit and had enough money to give you a $3.5 million compensation package.”
Wabtec defends demand for “reasonable” overtime
Meanwhile, Dea Campanelli, the spokesperson for Wabtec explained that the company is offering to maintain the existing $35 per hour wage for current employees.
Campanelli said, “It’s a pay scale that is exceptional for that region.” In addition, she stated that the company is just asking for overtime that is “reasonable” and “necessary” to meet its commitment to a customer.
Furthermore, she stressed that company is demanding overtime and lower salary for new employees because it wants ensure the factory is competitive.
“We need to get the Erie plant in a position for success,” said Campanelli.