Maybe the 700 workers at Constellium Rolled Products in Ravenswood feel they have a good reason for being on strike, but their action has many people wondering what that reason could possibly be.
The workers officially began a strike against the Paris, France-based company at midnight on Sunday after the United Steelworkers Union Local 5668 refused to present the company's last-minute counter-proposal to its members.
According to published reports, the sticking point of the contract seems to be increased contributions by workers for health insurance - something all workers have been facing the past several years. However, to help with this increase, the Constellium originally offered a $15,000 pay increase for workers over the five-year life of the contract. Last week, the United Steelworkers Union Local 5668 voted down the offer.
The counter-offer made over the weekend - the one not presented to workers - increased the amount of money to $23,000 over the life of the contract - with an immediate $7,000 bonus to employees upon the signing of the contract. Constellium also offered to delay the health care changes until 2014-2015.
We are not disputing the union's right to go on strike. Members have every right to vote down a contract proposal. But we don't understand why they would do so in this instance. From every vantage point this contract looks like a fair deal. Certainly it looks good to people who are not members of Local 5668 who have seen there own health care contributions increase substantially over the past few years. And it certainly looks good to people working for minimum wage with no health care benefits at all.
The contract should look good to Constellium workers, also. While Constellium just purchased the plant in 2011, it not only purchased an older, outdated plant, it purchased one that has only shown a profit two of the past 13 years. That's probably not a recipe for longterm job stability.
Here is another thing to consider: Century Aluminum is hoping to reopen that plant, which sits next to Constellium, and rehire nearly 500 workers. While the plants are independent of each others, those rehired Century workers would also be represented by Local 5668. Century owners are seeking a controversial plan with the West Virginia Public Service Commission that would base utility rates on the price of steel. If steel prices drop, the company's utility rates would drop - with AEP customers making up for that loss of revenue.
The PSC will make a decision on this proposal later this year after three days of hearings last week.
The PSC should have serious concerns about approving a plan that could make ordinary West Virginians shoulder so much of a load for a company whose union representation seemingly has no qualms about turning down fair contract offers.