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Senator XXXX, Montana Senate
PO Box 200500
Helena, MT 59620-0500
Rep. XXXX, Montana House of Representatives
PO Box 200400
Helena, MT 59620-0400
Union Sister Peggy Breeden has recently retired after 40 years as a housekeeper at the Libby Care Center. She has been a longtime member of the Union Committee in Libby and has served a stint on the Union’s Executive Board. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement!
STRIKE AVERTED AT BUTTE SCHOOL DISTRICT
A hard-fought contract agreement was reached in late Feb. 2012 between the food service workers and the cleaners of the Butte School District. Raises of $0.23 to $0.25 per hour for food service and $0.30 per hour for cleaners were won in the one year agreement, along with an increase of $25 for the District’s contribution to health insurance. The food service workers also won an additional paid holiday for Christmas Eve.
Faced with shrinking budgets from the Republican Legislature, the Butte School District entered into negotiations with a tough attitude. Despite this, the biggest problem was the lack of bargaining in good faith by the District. Over six months went by in negotiations without a single change by the District in their economic proposals. This way of “bargaining” was insulting to workers.
Their take-it-or-leave-it strategy forced the workers to prepare for a strike. Strike meetings were held, media interviews were made, community support was developed, picket assignments were given, and signs were made up for a strike deadline of Feb. 29. A state mediator met with both the Union and the District on Feb. 27, which brought both sides to the agreement. The District ended up giving more in wage increases and benefits than they claimed they would pay.
Their bargaining strategy led to six total contracts being open in late February, which had not happened in people’s memory before.
Soon after the Superintendent resigned, the attorney was dismissed, and a new President of the School Board was elected. The change was huge. Negotiations in September for 2012-2013 went much more respectfully and productively. Those negotiations finished in late Sept. with wage increases of $0.19 for cleaners and $0.20 for food service. workers, with both getting another $25 per month on health insurance.
New Contract at Libby Care Center
The new owners of the Libby Care Center came out swinging in contract negotiations over the winter, spring and summer of 2012. Consulate Health Care, one of the largest for-profit nursing home chains in the U.S., bought the facility at the turn of the year.
Representatives of corporate made several bad proposals, including: restricting workers free speech rights in social media and newspapers; an inferior Paid Time Off (PTO) policy that included a net loss of benefits and an outrageous penalty of losing 1½ days of PTO for every 1 day off sick; a potentially unfair procedure to investigate charges of abuse or willful neglect; no wage increases for the first year; and only wage reopeners for the next two years of the contract.
At one point in negotiations the Union invited Pastor Steven Benson of Christ Lutheran Church, who graciously attended, to give a prayer for justice for the workers and for care for the residents. Before he started, the Consulate representatives called for a quick break and demanded to know “what the Union was up to.” Pastor Benson’s presence clearly upset them.
Perhaps they were not so confident of their claim of not wanting to pay higher wages because of alleged cuts to Medicare. The bargaining committee investigated this claim and found that such cuts only affected a fraction of a percent of the Libby Care Center budget.
Union members also recruited Libby businesses to post signs of support in their windows, and Libby residents to sign a support petition. With the closure of the mill and the vermiculite mine, LCC is one of the largest employers in Libby.
Tough bargaining accomplished many of the Union’s goals. The offensive PTO policy proposal was changed drastically so it did not hurt workers. Worker free speech rights were protected.
The Union also won language that get the employer to more effectively use on-call (PRN) workers and provides for a clear process for low census layoffs that respects seniority.
A fair process of investigation for alleged abuse and neglect was adopted. And a regular labor-management committee was established for better communication.
Wage increases were 0% the first year, 1.5% + 1.5% the second year, and the third year there can be a wage opener with the Union maintaining its right to take economic action, including going on strike, over those negotiations.
Then in December, Consulate attempted to cut the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) staff by 25%, citing again alleged cuts in reimbursement for care. The size of these staffing cuts would be devastating for the residents. The Union organized a plan of opposition and corporate backed down.
Nevertheless the Union filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over Consulate’s failure to bargain. The charge is still pending at press time.
We can prevail against large corporations if we stand our ground, organize support in the community, and act with solidarity.