Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Marick Masters on agreement reached between employers and Wabtec, Erie workers after labor strike

Less than four months ago, about 1,700 locomotive plant workers in Erie marched for nine days — a rare labor strike to protest proposals for a two-tier wage system and mandatory overtime. On Wednesday, those workers will convene again — this time to vote on whether to accept a tentative agreement reached last week between their union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, and their new employer, Wilmerding-based Wabtec Corp. If ratified, the four-year labor pact represents key victories for the union, labor experts said, while bringing stability after a rocky start for Wabtec, which acquired the plant when its $11 billion merger with GE Transportation closed in February. In particular, the union hammered out a compromise on a two-tier wage system. Wabtec, a manufacturer and service provider for the railroad industry, had proposed maintaining wages and benefits for current employees, who earn a starting wage of $35 an hour, while paying new hires and recalled workers about 38 percent less on average. In the tentative agreement, the two sides agreed to pay new hires less — the union and company did not say how much less — but to put them on a path that would bring them up to the existing employees’ wage level in 10 years. The union also got the company to drop its demand for mandatory overtime and won a commitment from Wabtec to hire 100 full-time employees by the end of the contract. The contract would maintain current wage rates for existing employees. “It seems to me they’ve struck a reasonable compromise,” said Marick Masters, a labor relations professor at Wayne State University. “Both parties got a little bit of what they wanted.”

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