We imagine it wasn't easy for the striking United Steelworkers Local 5668 workers of Constellium Rolled Products' Ravenswood plant to go against the union hierarchy and vote to approve a new contract with the company. But the rank-and-file did just that this past Wednesday when they approved a contract offer on which union officials did not even want to allow a vote.
Union officials did not reveal a final vote tally, but did acknowledge the five-year contract offer had passed. Constellium officials say it will take about a week for the company to resume operations.
While they were trying to get a new contract and not trying to win a popularity contest, Local 5668 officials did themselves no favors during this dispute, especially by their initial decision to not allow a vote on this latest contract offer. This offer came following a personal intervention by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who urged both sides to return to the bargaining table and hash out their differences. By refusing to even allow a vote on the offer that came out of that intervention was not only a slap in the face to the governor and his efforts, but to union members as well. Only after internal pressure from union members, their families and Ravenswood officials were members given the opportunity to vote. And the fact the vote totals have not been released as yet, seem to indicate the vote was strongly in favor of the contract.
The strike not only affected the workers and their families, it was extremely hard on the Ravenswood community where many of the workers reside and which is still reeling from the closure of Century Aluminum a few years ago. While many elected officials at least publically stay somewhat quiet during a labor dispute, Ravenswood's young mayor stood up for his businesses community and was not timid in showing his frustration with union officials and their strategy of not allowing members to vote on the new contract.
The hourly wage and health care benefit costs may be the points most people focus on during a strike, but we realize these are not the only issues included in a contract. We certainly do not know every point in the contract or how they will affect workers during the next five years. The steelworkers have a taxing job and certainly earn every penny they make. However, most people on the outside of this strike were not just being envious when they wondered how, in this economy, workers could walk away from good paying jobs with good benefits, even if they were being asked to assume more responsibility for some costs.
The fact Constellium workers will soon be returning to their jobs is good news for Ravenswood - and the entire region. In our opinion, workers made the right decision.