LISTERHILL — Operating Engineers Local 320 members have ratified a five-year contract with Wise Alloys in a move officials said sends a positive message to the company’s customer base.
The contract includes pay increases for the union’s 140 workers at Wise Alloys, which is the nation’s third largest producer of aluminum can stock for the beverage and food industries. The current contract expires Nov. 1.
Wise Alloys has about 1,000 workers at its Colbert County plant.
“The fact we were able to settle a new labor agreement almost three weeks before expiration of the current agreement sends a clear, strong message to our customers, investors and our community in the Shoals area that Wise Alloys is a strong and reliable partner,” said Wes Oberholzer, the company’s executive vice president and chief operation officer.
Plant Manager Joe Pampinto said in a prepared statement that ratification of the new contract could produce long-term benefits for everyone involved.
“The new agreement benefits the company and our employees in terms of stability and the ability to plan for future growth,” Pampinto said.
Local 320 members at the plant will receive a total of $6,500 in lump sum payments during the five-year contract period. In addition, workers will receive 2.25 percent raises next year and in 2015, union officials said. They added workers will have to pay more for health benefits — an additional $260 each year. Pay for new hires will be reduced from its current level, but they will reach the top-out level in five years.
“I don’t know if either side ever gets all it wants,” said Steve Stutts, southern region representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers. “It’s important that we maintain our industries here, though. We can’t become a retirement community. We need good jobs.
“We’ve been told the company has long-term commitments from its customers. If Wise is going to expand, we want it to be here and for Local 320 to be a part of it.”
Parent company Wise Metals moved its corporate headquarters to the Shoals about a year ago. Since that time, Wise Alloys has announced expansions related to producing wider coil sheets that provide more flexibility in meeting customer needs.
One expansion produced 35 more jobs for Local 320 workers.
Stutts said he and others will work closely with company officials to “improve communications and interactions” within the plant.
“We want to listen and understand Wise’s issues, but we also want to speak and be understood on our issues,” Stutts said. “I am convinced the company is committed to addressing our concerns along those lines.”
In 2007, Wise Alloys workers were represented by 13 unions. Today, three unions represent workers at the plant.
Contracts with the Steelworkers and Carpenters locals are scheduled to expire Nov. 1.
Sandra Scarborough, senior vice president for corporate human resources, said negotiations with the Steelworkers local are scheduled to begin Tuesday and company officials are working with the Carpenters union to schedule a date to begin talks.
Wise Alloys has 409 workers represented by the Steelworkers local.
“The company will bargain in good faith to reach an agreement that is fair and equitable to the employees and the company,” Scarborough said.
Mike Goens can be reached at 256-740-5740 or mike.goens@TimesDaily.com.