LISTER HILL ‑ The Steelworkers union at Wise Alloys granted permission today to call a strike if no deal is reached by 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
The 419 members of Steelworkers’ Local 200 gave the authorization by a large majority during today’s vote, said Ken Hunt, the local’s business manager.
Hunt said most of the 350 members who voted gave approval to strike if it comes to that point. “It was an overwhelming majority.”
He said the union doesn’t want a strike and will continue negotiating with Wise officials Thursday morning.
Sandra Scarborough, senior vice president of corporate human resources for Wise Metals Group, said negotiations have gone well and the union requested that no negotiations be conducted today so its members could vote and discuss the status of talks.
“We’re still negotiating,” Scarborough said. “We’ve had very productive talks through (Tuesday) afternoon. We have set our schedule around the union’s. We want a contract. That’s our goal.”
Today’s vote was not a decision on whether to strike. Instead, it’s whether to grant the union’s negotiating committee the authority to strike if no deal is reached by the deadline.
The current contract expires at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
“The union is striving very hard to prevent a strike,” Hunt said. “We don’t want a strike and we’ll do everything we can to avoid one.”
Union and Wise officials say their goal is to reach an agreement Thursday. Hunt said. Even if a new contract is not completed by the end of Thursday, there is a possibility a strike would be avoided if the two sides are close to an agreement.
“We’re going to be striving to get an agreement,” Hunt said. “A strike is the last resort that we want. It’s our intent something will happen by (Thursday) night.”
There are three central issues in the negotiations, Hunt said. Those include forced overtime, a proposed three-tiered pay system and rising health insurance costs.
Hunt said Wise officials want to add a third tier to the employ structure that would have employees start out at a reduced wage and fewer benefits. “They would not have all the benefits allotted to the current people here.”