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Union OKs Constellium contract

By From staff reports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Hundreds of steelworkers in Jackson County ended a weeks-long strike Wednesday night, voting in favor of a new, five-year contract.

The vote was taken by secret ballot among all union workers at the United Steelworkers Local 5668 union hall near Ravenswood. Vote totals have not been released.

About 700 production and maintenance employees represented by Local 5668 went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 5, after failing to reach an agreement with negotiators on collective bargaining efforts to reduce health care benefits for workers.

With about 1,000 total workers, Constellium's aluminum plant in Ravenswood is the county's largest employer.

Constellium said Thursday that it will take about a week to resume normal operations at the plant.

Calls to Randy Moore, sub-district director for the United Steelworkers in West Virginia, were not immediately returned. He told other media outlets there was some disappointment on both sides of the vote.

Union members would not speak to reporters gathered near the union hall Wednesday evening. The hall is on a hill near the plant.

As union members exited the hall, one said shouted that reporters were on private property and that all non-union members were to leave.

Constellium and the steelworkers have been at odds over a new collective bargaining agreement that would change workers' health insurance benefits.

The company currently pays 100 percent of workers' insurance premiums, though employees do pay some co-pays. The new contract would have the company paying 95 percent of the workers' premiums, leaving the worker responsible for the remaining 5 percent.

Under the old contract, policyholders did not have a deductible, and co-pay amounts ranged from $10 for visits to primary care physicians or specialists, to $20 for emergency room visits, according to a benefits chart on the Constellium website.

Workers voted Wednesday on the third and final contract offer made by Constellium on Sept. 5. The offer provides employees with a $7,500 ratification bonus, 2.5 percent wage increases in each year of the contract, and other economic benefits.

This offer includes a 95 / 5 health care plan that pays for 95 percent of covered health care costs, according to a statement from the company. Employees will not pay for health care premiums until 2017.

In 2017, the statement added, the health insurance rates will still be "significantly less than half of the national average-only $17.31 per week for family coverage."

Workers make about $19 an hour, but that's less than the hourly wages for workers at similar plants in the country. The union has said it made "large concessions" in wages to keep a good health plan.

"We believe the new contract provides a solid foundation on which we can continue to build Ravenwood's future," said Ravenswood CEO Kyle Lorentzen on Thursday.

"This five-year agreement provides employees with generous pay increases, families with affordable health care coverage, and the facility with much-needed control over runaway health care costs. We appreciate everyone's assistance in getting this contract approved."  In statements released Wednesday evening, Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin praised the vote.

"I am extremely pleased today to see these West Virginians and this company come together around a fair deal," Manchin, D-W.Va., said. "Today's agreement means that we can keep good-paying jobs and make the company successful - which will help create more even good jobs down the road. This is truly a great day for Ravenswood, Jackson County and all of West Virginia."

"I am extremely pleased the members voted to ratify the contract this evening. I want to thank both the company and the union for their hard work in resolving the work stoppage," said Tomblin.  "It will be great to see the workers back at the plant soon."

"I communicated to both sides throughout these negotiations, and I'm glad that all parties kept working toward a solution," Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said. "I applaud the workers, the union, and the company today, and I look forward to seeing production resume on the great work that only this Jackson County facility can produce for our country."



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