Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mercury talks continuing

Below is a post from the FDL Reporter regarding negotiations between Mercury Marine and its union in Fond Du Lac:

August 9, 2009
Mercury talks continuing Two sides could finish negotiations by mid-August

FOND DU LAC — Negotiations between Mercury Marine and its union could be completed as soon as Aug. 17.

"Right now, both sides feel they can get that done," said Steve Fleming, communications director for Mercury Marine.

Representatives of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 1947 met last Thursday in an eight-hour session with company representatives at Ramada Plaza Hotel in downtown Fond du Lac.

The meeting was the fourth session for Mercury and the union.

"There was a lot of counter offers across the table regarding (contract) language," said Dan Longsine, chief negotiator for Local 1947.

'Lot of business' to cover

Longsine said both sides have "a lot of business" to attend to in the next couple of weeks.

The union side of the table, he said, included the nine-member negotiating team, a District 10 representative, an attorney and a researcher from Strategic Resources in Washington, D.C., who was present for the first time Thursday to assist with union-related questions.

The company, Longsine estimated, had six people participate, including its vice president of human resources, Ray Atchinson, and a representative of employment law firm Littler Mendelson.

"In order to formulate a final decision by the end of summer, we needed to make progress at this meeting and I think both committees worked hard to make that happen," said Mark Schwabero, president of Mercury Marine, who was briefed, but not in attendance at negotiations Thursday.

"The current market requires us to make some very critical decisions over the next few weeks. We are bargaining not for enhancements or over political or philosophical differences; we must restructure our business to compete successfully in a very different market," Schwabero added.

"Obviously, this is a very important juncture in this company's history," he said. "We must make the best decision at every opportunity."

Longsine said union membership has been "solidly behind" the negotiating team.

The state of the marine industry, hit particularly hard in the economic downturn, has prompted Mercury officials to consider a consolidation involving the Fond du Lac and Stillwater, Okla., plants.

State and local officials have vowed to assist the company in hopes that the 385 jobs in Stillwater would be moved north to the Fond du Lac headquarters, currently employing around 1,900.

Fleming said much of the discussion Thursday focused on operational flexibility, which along with benefits, formed Mercury's first proposal to the union. The company completed its presentation Monday with its wage proposal.

Mercury's proposal includes no wage reductions for current employees for the next three years and a structure for new hires that is "competitive in the Fox Valley."

More meetings planned

Health-care and retirement plans being proposed are said to be similar to current plans for salaried employees.

In addition, an early retirement incentive proposal would provide an opportunity for employees to retire with their current benefits. The company says it potentially could open new employment opportunities in the community.

More meetings are planned for this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, if needed.
Longsine said he's trying to be optimistic and said the negotiating team has "an obligation to represent the members with level heads."

He added that if the negotiating team reached a tentative agreement regarding changes, it would then be presented to members for a vote.

The meeting would be similar to one held July 26 at the Fond du Lac High School gym and Longsine said, "Everyone would get a ballot."

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