Patty’s Corner – March, 2016

I hope the relaunch of our website is a success and you will once again start visiting to hear what’s going on in my corner. I’m not going to try to catch you up on what has transpired since the site went down, but will instead jump to current events.

I’m sure you noticed the press release about Columbia. Here is the full story.

Columbia’s first contract with Local 174 was effective in 2002, negotiated after a narrow union victory in an NLRB-conducted election. That contract was not particularly strong, no surprise when an election is won with a bare majority.

The second contract was a year old when Rick Hicks assumed office in 2007. We got our shot at negotiating an agreement in 2009. Our relationship with the original Columbia management team was cordial, and we had tough but productive negotiations. There were numerous improvements in contract language (most notably the members gained just cause discipline rights for the first time) and in economics.

After that contract was secured, Columbia brought in a new, anti-union management team. Our relationship took a decided turn for the worst. Not only did they begin to fire many people unjustly, they decided to reinterpret the language in the discipline section so that they could combine three unrelated matters in a 12-month period to justify a termination, reinventing the meaning of “same or similar” that exists in most of our contracts.

Heading into the 2012 negotiations, the Company hired a new attorney. Todd Lyons had recently jumped the fence, moving from a union (and one-time 174) attorney to the management ranks. He took his move seriously, shaving his head and growing a goatee to adopt a satanic look appropriate to his new role! Lyin’ Lyons was hired by the law firm which represented Columbia from the beginning, one with which we had developed a good working relationship. He left that law firm and took Columbia with him, promising Columbia he would beat 174 at the bargaining table, stripping away all the gains we had made in the 2009 negotiations and more. He was decidedly unsuccessful, and after taking us to the brink of a strike, we succeeded in negotiating a new agreement without giving up anything and making decent gains in language and economics.

The new management team did not give up, and when the 2009 negotiations were unsuccessful, they hired the union-busting attorney with the worst reputation in Seattle. We knew at that point we were heading for a strike when the contract expired in 2015.

After a series of costly arbitrations over terminations, all won by the Union with the members gaining reinstatement rights and most of the time full backpay, the arbitration on the reinvented discipline language took place. The Union also won that arbitration. Shortly after that victory, the anti-union management team was shown to the door, and more labor-friendly people were hired into all of the top management positions – manager of the facility, head of human resources, and labor relations.

The new management team asked us for a one-year extension. They wanted to show that they would treat the employees differently and to get a chance to change the way the company was being operated. With some significant economic incentive, the members agreed, and ratified a one-year extension.

That bring us to today. We were a little concerned heading into bargaining. The new labor friendly company still retained the anti-union attorney, but insisted he was not in charge. They only confirmed three dates before the expiration of the agreement. While it was not entirely unexpected, we were very disappointed when they opened bargaining with a big pile of takeaways, everything from expanded management rights to rolling back the clock on discipline in language, and many cuts directly affecting our members’ pocketbooks.

After some tough negotiating sessions (including a couple of days added at the end of the week before contract expiration), we were far from an agreement. Most glaring is the minuscule amount of money on the table to pay for anticipated increases in medical costs. If the medical plan continues to rise at the average level we have seen over the past 10 years, our members will be close to $400 a month out of pocket at the end of three years.

On the Saturday before a Monday contract expiration, we held a meeting with the members. The meeting was very well attended. It was the kind of meeting I hope all of you have the chance to attend at least once during your life as a member. Everyone who was in that room knows now what being a 174 member is all about. We do not take it, we bring it! A raucous group gave the bargaining committee a 100% authorization vote.

The Company refused to meet on Monday, the day the contract expired. We convened the next day at 1 p.m. After a mere 3-1/2 hours of negotiations, when we were miles away from impasse in the Union’s view and had plenty of room to move, the Company abruptly and prematurely presented us with a last best and final. We had been prepared for an all-nighter to get it done, but they left the building before the close of normal business.

The usual exchange of fences and porta-potties has occurred. While we still hope to get a settlement, we are prepared to strike when the time is right. Stay tuned for more news!