Avondale Shipbuilding employees voted to approve the terms of their first union contract with Litton Industries
. The company's 1,500 Metal Trades -represented workers approved the agreement by a four-to-one margin.
The 45-month agreement, negotiated by the New Orleans Metal Trades Council
, provides an immediate three percent wage hike in January as part of an overall nine percent wage hike paid in three increments. Also in the area of wages, the contract sets up a formal skill progression system that will move the majority of employees into higher-paid categories after working 500 hours in any lower classification. Wages under the agreement range from $8.25/hour for semi-skilled new hires to $16/hour at the top of the highest skill level.
"These were difficult negotiations, conducted in an amicable atmosphere with an employer who shared our interest in developing a functional agreement which would improve the wages and conditions of Avondale's workers," declared John Meese, president of the national Metal Trades Council. "The negotiating team and Avondale's workers are proud that we were able to open a new era for Avondale's workers under which they will enjoy the benefits of a unionized work place and a long overdue sense of dignity and respect. This agreement will also add value to the shipyard by enhancing the quality of its products." The parties will formally sign the contract on December 19 in New Orleans. The agreement sets up a series of joint labor management committees to address ongoing concerns of the Avondale workforce
, including a Joint Safety and Health Committee, with equal representation by union and management. The goal of the Health and Safety Committee is to establish Avondale as "the safest shipyard in the nation."
The pact also provides for a Joint Labor Management Training Committee to set up skill-level testing and training programs to be used in conjunction with the revised classification compensation program. Negotiators also agreed to reduce the shipyard's 91 job categories to 24.
The agreement provides for improvements in call-in pay, overtime practices, expanded vacations, free life insurance, and tax-free flexible spending accounts used for day-care and out-of-pocket health care expenses. The parties pledged to continue negotiating for a reformed health insurance program that will reduce employee health care costs with no reduction in benefits. Union negotiators say that process was deferred so that the rest of the agreement would not be delayed.
The Metal Trades Department is an umbrella organization made up of 17 AFL-CIO affiliates which negotiates for craft and trade workers in the shipbuilding industry in both the public and private sector as well as certain nuclear facilities operated by the Department of Energy, workers on the Panama Canal, and in certain industrial and mining operations in the U.S.