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Union to vote Wednesday on Constellium offer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Striking union workers at Constellium Rolled Products in Ravenswood have decided they will vote on the latest offer from the company later this week.

Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers union, said Saturday afternoon that Local 5668 will hold four meetings Tuesday to explain details of the new five-year contract proposed by Constellium to 700 union members working at the plant.

The union will then hold a secret ballot Wednesday, Gerard said, in which all members will be able to vote on whether to accept or reject the new contract.

Gerard told the Gazette-Mail that these plans were made Saturday, "following a lengthy discussion between the local union committee, the international union staff and myself."

The union began its walkout on Aug. 5, after it could not reach an agreement for a new contract with Constellium negotiators. Major disagreements developed over company efforts to reduce health-care benefits to its workers.

The company said its latest offer includes a $7,500 bonus for each worker when the contract is signed and a 2.5 percent annual pay raise.

On Friday, Local 5668 held three meetings at its union hall near Ravenswood to explain the contract to its members.

"Friday's meetings were supposed to be informational meetings," Gerard said. "Then there was a motion by one member on the floor to take a vote on whether or not to vote on the contract. That was spontaneous."

The Gazette-Mail reported Saturday that union members were not going to vote on the proposed contract.

Gerard, however, said that changed Saturday.

"To make sure everything is clear," he said, "the union has decided to hold four comprehensive informational meetings on Tuesday" before a secret vote on Wednesday.

Gerard said the union hall was too small to accommodate all 700 members who work at Constellium during Friday's three meetings. As a result, 200 workers did not attend.

The four meetings on Tuesday, Gerard said, "will give the full local membership sufficient time to attend" and "an opportunity to learn about the contract.

"On Wednesday, they will have a secret ballot to vote on the company's offer. This was a unanimous decision of the local union bargaining committee," he said Saturday. "They made that decision today.

"The local union committee will start getting this information out [about the meetings and vote] tonight, tomorrow and Monday."

Gerard said he would not discuss the specifics of Constellium's offer prior to the vote.

However, on Friday, he had said, "Comparing it to other settlements, it is better than most of the settlements that are out there."

Also Friday, Constellium communications manager Laura Prisc said, "We believe our employees should have the right to review and vote on the contract."

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Saturday, "I am committed to continuing to work with both parties to bring this work stoppage to a conclusion. I encourage international and local union leaders to continue to educate and inform their members about the offer on the table. At the end of the day, it is up to the members to determine whether to accept the current offer.

"I hope each member carefully weighs this offer and what is in the best interest of themselves and their families," Tomblin said. "I hope that everyone involved understands the hardships this has caused families in the Ravenswood community, and that jobs and economic security are first and foremost on everyone's minds over these next few days."

Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., expressed their concerns in statements released Saturday morning.

Rockefeller said, "The negotiations in Ravenswood are deeply important to the workers, their families and the whole community. I have been engaged with all parties regarding the ongoing negotiations and I have listened to the concerns and hopes of all involved.

"In the end, I think it is essential for all of the members to have an opportunity to vote up or down on the company's latest proposal. I am hopeful that an agreement can be reached sooner rather than later and think that a vote on the contract - regardless of whether the members decide to ratify it - is necessary to move us towards a resolution."

Manchin said, "Throughout these challenging negotiations, my priority has been to bring the parties together, treat everyone with respect and fairness and do our best to get our talented people back to work.

"We've reached a point in these negotiations where the international leadership of the United Steelworkers union has reviewed this offer. President Leo Gerard sees market conditions around the world, and his assessment is that it's time for workers to have a vote."

"I also urge all those involved to keep cool heads in the coming days, as these talks are proving to be a marathon, not a sprint.

 "As always, I am determined to make sure that the workers are treated fairly and that the company can be successful -- so we can keep the good-paying jobs we have and create opportunities to attract even more jobs."

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


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