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Constellium union votes to not vote on company offer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Striking union workers at Constellium Rolled Products in Ravenswood decided Friday not to vote on the latest offer from the company -- even though the international president of their union said workers should vote on it.

Constellium made the offer to about 700 members of United Steelworkers of America Local 5668 last week, after a meeting between union and company leaders called by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Earlier this week, local union leaders said they wouldn't take the offer to a vote by workers. On Friday, though, workers attended three meetings at the local union hall to consider whether to vote on the offer.

"The membership voted today not to take the offer from the company back for a vote," Randy Moore, USW subdistrict director in West Virginia, said Friday evening. "There was a lot of discussion and debate today during seven and a half hours of meetings. There's still a lot of disagreement with the changes the company made in medical benefits."

The offer from the company expires Saturday.

According to earlier reports, Constellium wanted to reduce its share of the union workers' health insurance premiums from 100 percent to 95 percent.

The new offer also included a $7,500 signing bonus and a 2.5 percent wage increase for each year of the five-year contract. Constellium workers now make about $19 an hour, which the union says is less than workers at similar plants.

The workers went on strike Aug. 5.

Earlier Friday, Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers union, told the Gazette-Mail that union workers at Constellium should be allowed to consider the company's latest offer.

"I believe that we're at the point in these negotiations and labor dispute where the members ought to have an opportunity to vote on what is on the table," Gerard said. "Clearly, after the governor called the parties together, there was movement on the issues. We're at a point now, after several weeks out on the picket line, where the members ought to get a chance to express their up or down vote on what is on the table.

"If they reject it, it is fine," he added. "If they accept it, it is also fine, because they are expressing their will."

The union president said he was worried the strike could drag on.

"I am also concerned that the company said that this is the last and final offer," Gerard said. "That could set up for a long-term dispute."

Tomblin, who has encouraged both sides to reach an agreement to re-open the plant, did not have any comment about Friday's meetings.

Gerard would not discuss specifics of the Constellium offer.

"On the basis of comparing it to other settlements, it is better than most of the settlements that are out there," he said. "I also thought there are some changes the bargaining committee sees as regressive."

Whether to have a vote, Gerard added, "is up to the bargaining committee. The company has expressed a deadline because they have some contracts at risk with customers."

Moore said the local held three meetings Friday because the union hall is not big enough to accommodate all members at the same time.

"We encourage them to consider a vote on this," Moore said. "They will make the decision. Whatever the decision, I think the international will stand by them."

Laura Prisc, Constellium's communications manager, said, "We believe our employees should have the right to review and vote on the contract and make the decision on the contract.

"If they want to vote, we would obviously listen to their request [for a delay on Saturday's deadline]," Prisc said Friday afternoon.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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