A beautiful, American-made locomotive. | Photo source unknown.
Without further ado, your Idiotville feel-good story of the week:
They did it! The high drama of UE 506 and Wabtec labor negotiations is over for the next four years. World class locomotives will continue production in Idiotville. The UE Local 506 membership ratified the agreement on Wednesday, showing that we can all stop obsessing over this for a few years and, more importantly, that some portion of humanity can still resolve heated disputes in a mutually agreeable fashion in 2019.
That last part is of particular significance to those of us not personally invested in these negotiations. I don’t mean to sensationalize this, but to watch the news lately is to see compromise slip further and further into the distance on any range of topics. It’s depressing. People seem less and less willing to walk a mile in each other’s shoes, and it’s resulted in a lot more walking away from the table.
GE found it easier to walk away than to reach an agreement with UE Local 506. When Wabtec took over and drew an equally hard line, it became easy to envision a few thousand jobs walking right out of town and not looking back. That worst case scenario took on an air of inevitability after the union went on a nine-day strike last month.
Then, the compromise. One of the major sticking points in negotiations was over the “two-tier” wage scale, determining whether new employees would make less than their more experienced brethren ($22/hr. vs. $35/hr. for existing employees). Both GE and then Wabtec insisted on a two-tier wage system, but the Union didn’t seem ready to budge.
The final agreement ended up with something like a two-tier system, but with new hire wages catching up to the legacy employees over 10 years. It also came with a guarantee that Wabtec will hire an additional 100 full-time employees over the life of the contract, which is great.
If you’re interested in all the details of the deal I recommend the GoErie article at the top. As to who “won” the deal? I have no clue. I’m not a labor negotiations expert, nor a union employee. I don’t think the “winners vs. losers” frame is the right way to see this, anyway, at least not primarily.
My primary focus is that 1,700 of my neighbors will be going to work for the next four years instead of hitting the unemployment line, and we’re not adding a giant industrial complex to the list of things we see decaying around here.
I think that’s something everyone can agree on. It’s a worthy feature for this week’s something good to happen in Erie.