Plumbing Fixture Workers Protest Contract Offer

Kohler says 3-year proposal was its last, best and final
Plumbing Fixture Workers Protest Contract Offer
Kohler Co. workers went on strike Monday after rejecting the plumbing fixture manufacturer’s latest 3-year contract offer. (Photo and video courtesy TMJ4)

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Police on Tuesday threatened to arrest members of striking United Auto Workers Local 833 after claims of physical confrontations among picketers at Kohler Co. in Wisconsin, police and security guards, according to TMJ4 in Milwaukee.

Workers for the plumbing fixture manufacturer went on strike Monday, protesting what they say is an inadequate pay increase, higher healthcare costs and the continuation of a two-tier wage scale.

Kohler had called for three raises of 50 cents each – about 2 percent a year – for most of its workforce, TMJ4 reported. The offer raised healthcare cost but included a $1,200 bonus that the company said could cover the increase.

Kohler says it provided union leadership on Sunday with its last, best and final offer for a new 3-year contract.

“This offer provides increased pay each year of the 3-year contract for all union associates; maintains local jobs and benefits that are well above the region’s norm; and supports a wage structure for sustained job growth at this facility,” the company said in a press release.

The union says 94 percent of its voting members rejected Kohler’s offer. About 1,800 workers attended Sunday’s membership meeting, according to TMJ4.

The strike is the first at the company since 1983.

Kohler Co. says it is very disappointed that its final offer was not accepted by associates and is concerned that union officials may have misrepresented what could be achieved in a strike.  

“A work stoppage like this will unfortunately cost our associates and can negatively influence our desire to grow jobs in this location,” Kohler said in a release. “It is a fair offer for all that continues to maintain local jobs above the region’s norm, supports continued permanent job growth at our Wisconsin operations now and for future generations, and ensures all associates are financially ahead each year of the contract term. 

“The contract proposal offered wage and benefit increases during each year of the contract, an increase of the pension multiplier for eligible associates, increases across the board in life insurance, short-term and long-term disability and other insurance benefits, and more healthcare options.”

Kohler says production associates are welcome to report to work as normal, and if they do, they will receive their current wage and benefits. The company is prepared to implement plans to ensure that all customer product and service needs are met.

The following are terms of the offer:

 HEALTHCARE RATIFICATION BONUSES FOR ALL ASSOCIATES

  • If members vote to accept our offer on Nov.15, Tier A associates will receive a $1,200 bonus and Tier B associates will receive a $1,000 bonus. This can more than cover the increase in healthcare premiums in the 3 years of the agreement. 

TIER A WAGE INCREASES

  • Our contract offer provides Tier A associates with annual wage increases of 50 cents per hour in each of the 3 years of the contract. The Tier A average is projected to be $24.95 per hour at the start of the 3rd year of the agreement.
  • Based on Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015 wage survey, Kohler’s Tier A average hourly rate is approximately 86th percentile. This means that only 14 percent of the labor force in the local area earns more than what Kohler pays on average. Many long-tenured Kohler associates will continue to be among the highest wage-earners of area manufacturers.

TIER A BENEFITS IMPROVED

  • Our contract offer increases life insurance and accidental death and dismemberment benefits, increases short-term and long-term disability benefits and improves dental coverage.
  • An increase of $3 in the pension multiplier will be offered over the contract term, bringing it to $39.50 per year of service.

TIER B WAGE INCREASES

  • Tier B wages increase on average by more than 20 percent immediately with additional increases of 40 cents per hour in both the 2nd and 3rd years. Tier B associates also have the opportunity to advance and move into jobs that pay over $20 per hour.

TIER B BENEFITS IMPROVED

  • Our offer enhances the benefit package for Tier B associates by offering another medical plan in addition to the High Deductible Health Plan, which currently is the only plan option for Tier B associates.
  • Our contract offer includes shortened eligibility waiting periods for dental, vision and long-term disability coverage, an increase in life insurance and accidental death and dismemberment benefits, an increase in short-term and long-term disability benefits and improves dental coverage.

RETIREE MEDICAL

  • The existing Kohler-sponsored retiree medical plan will be replaced by a new arrangement, which provides multiple plan options at various premium rates.
  • All active permanent associates will receive a 401(k) contribution of at least $1,500 to replace the Early Retiree DDB.
  • Active permanent associates 40 or older with at least 15 years of service on Jan. 1, 2003, will also receive a contribution of up to $10,000 to a non-taxable retiree medical account to replace the Medicare Supplement DDB.

NEW HEALTHCARE OPTION AND WELLNESS INCENTIVES TO REDUCE MONTHLY CONTRIBUTIONS

  • A new lower cost HRA medical plan option will be offered to Tier A and Tier B associates. There will also be the opportunity to earn wellness credits and discounts to reduce monthly contributions. This may result in associates paying lower monthly contributions than they do currently.

COMMITTED TO CREATING PERMANENT POSITIONS

  • Our intention is to continue creating permanent jobs. Today, permanent headcount stands at 1,973 – an increase of 326, or nearly 20 percent – over the permanent headcount on Jan. 1, 2013. This demonstrates the benefits of the structure that we put in place and the steady job growth that it facilitated.


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