LISTERHILL — For the second time in four days, United Steelworkers of America Local 200 members rejected a new contract proposal with Wise Alloys, a proposal company officials described as their "best offer."
The 419 Steelworkers members voted on the new proposal Thursday. The contract was voted down as it was Monday. It was unclear Thursday night how many members voted or by what margin the contract was rejected.
"We are disappointed the union rejected this offer that the union leadership had tentatively agreed upon and recommended to the members," said Wes Oberholzer, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Wise.
Members of the Steelworkers local continued reporting to work as scheduled Thursday night, company officials said. No additional negotiations are scheduled, according to Ken Hunt, president of the local Steelworkers.
"The membership has rejected the contract and we have asked the company to sit down with us and continue to negotiate," Hunt said. "They told us they will let us know (today)."
Officials said company leadership are scheduled to meet this morning to review their options and decide how to proceed. They declined to say what options are possible.
"If there is an opportunity to talk and resolve this, then we will do so," said Sandra Scarborough, senior vice president of corporate human resources for Wise Metals Group.
Company officials have said the five-year contract proposal is essentially the same deal ratified by members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 320 and Carpenter Union, both of which represent employees at Wise Alloys.
Oberholzer said company officials were optimistic the contract would be approved.
"Following the union's failure to ratify the tentative agreement that we settled with the union on Nov. 1, we met Tuesday with the union at its request to address and resolve the issues that supposedly led to the failure to ratify," he said in a prepared statement. "We believe we resolved the issues, and we signed an improved tentative agreement with the union on Tuesday, and the union leadership gave us a solemn commitment to actively recommend ratification to the membership.
"The offer provides pay and benefit improvements, good jobs with good working conditions, and it compares favorably with the proposals that have been ratified earlier by our other two unions. This is the company's best offer.
"We are here to provide a service to our customers; we will take whatever steps necessary to meet and exceed our customer commitments. We have a detailed contingency plan in place that includes many options. We will implement each option if necessary."
Union representatives began negotiating with company officials in mid-October.
When a new contract was not agreed on by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 1, the time the old contract was to expire, negotiations were allowed to continue because both sides voiced optimism that an agreement was close.
A tentative agreement was reached in the early hours Nov. 2, but union members voted it down Monday.
Last week, Hunt said there were three central issues in the negotiations: 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 employee structure that would have employees start out at a reduced wage and fewer benefits.
It would take five years of service for the workers to reach maximum pay and benefits.
The proposal reportedly includes a signing bonus, 2.25 percent general wage increases in 2013 and 2015, and lump sum bonuses at different times during the five-year contract period.
Oberholzer issued a statement earlier this week stating the current average hourly base wage for production workers at the plant is $22 per hour.
The company's corporate headquarters moved to the Shoals earlier this year.
Wise Alloys is the nation's third-largest producer of aluminum can stock for the beverage and food industries.