UE leaders from Local 506 in Erie, PA and Local 610 in Wilmerding, PA met via Zoom in July with their counterparts in Unite the Union in the United Kingdom, who are in a fight with their mutual employer Wabtec.
The UE and Unite members discussed their current fights with Wabtec.
UE Local 610 President Antwon Gibson told the Unite members about his local’s recent contract fight with Wabtec and the company’s announced plans to close the historic Wilmerding plant within the next two years.
The Unite members, who work at the Wabtec’s facility in Doncaster and at the Faiveley Transport plant in Birkenhead, have been in fights with Wabtec since the company took over their facilities. Wabtec merged with Faiveley prior to its merger with GE Transportation in 2019. The Unite members have accused Wabtec of engaging in the notorious “fire and rehire” strategy in an attempt to impose worse terms and conditions on their members.
Under UK labor law, companies are free to impose new terms and conditions on their workers. At the Doncaster plant, Unite and RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) represent the Wabtec workers and negotiate general wage increases and decide on joint actions, but the workers must sign individual contracts.
Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham, quoted in local Doncaster press, said: “Wabtec’s abhorrent fire and rehire plans seek to make Doncaster’s workers worse off, working longer for less, for a company that has billions in the bank.”
The Unite members at the Birkenhead plant voted to strike earlier this year over Wabtec’s actions and the company backed off their “fire and rehire” scheme there.
Nearly 99 percent of Doncaster workers signed their individual contracts, but have been engaging in intermittent strike actions over the company’s new terms and condition, which included taking away two of their breaks and wash-up times. The workers also rejected the company’s wage offer that doesn’t keep up with inflation (which is over 11 percent in the UK).
Prior to the Zoom meeting with UE, the Unite members at the Doncaster plant had voted to engage in an all-out strike, starting on July 19, but Wabtec rescinded it plans to eliminate the workers’ break times and wash-up times. The company also offered the workers a $1,000 bonus in addition to its wage offer. The workers were voting on the company’s latest offer, but the union leadership had recommended a no vote.
While their members were voting on the company’s latest offer, the Unite leaders at the Doncaster plant said the company was trying to soften their members up by giving them ice cream during the current heatwave which was inundating the UK and most of Europe. But they didn’t think it would work and that they expected their members to reject the company’s offer.
The UE leaders offered their solidarity and told the Unite leaders that they would do whatever they could to support their members if they go on strike.
UE Local 506 President Scott Slawson suggested that the two unions continue to work together whether the Unite members at the Doncaster plant strike or not. Slawson said the unions at Wabtec need to build international solidarity among their members in order to take on Wabtec, which has plants located around the world.