Pittsburgh-area Local Strikes Historic Electrical Equipment Plant
September 4, 2012
As China seeks to make inroads into previously untargeted corners of the U.S. manufacturing sector, one would think that workers and managers at a legendary U.S. plant now supplying China’s nuclear industry would be living in an island of labor peace and prosperity.
Curtiss-Wright, the storied manufacturer of military engines and airplanes which purchased the plant in 2002, seeks wage concessions, a termination of the company’s defined benefit pension plan for new hires and take-aways in overtime pay and scheduling practices. The parties’ four-year agreement expired on August 18. They struck on August 24.
Business Manager Dan Vandenburgh, a 25-year machinist/assembler, says the local tried to avoid a confrontation over a new contract to ensure that fabrication of several coolant pumps that had been delayed by design changes could be completed and delivered to China. He says:
“Our members are incredibly unified,” says Vandenburgh, who was briefly arrested during picket duty. Senior union members have been surprised at the level of support coming from younger workers. Says Vandenburgh:
The local membership took a unanimous voice vote authorizing a strike on August 15. Contract negotiations dragged on past the deadline without management putting a wage offer on the table.
On August 23 members reaffirmed their voice vote by secret ballot. The next day, Curtiss-Wright asked for a 2 percent wage cut in the first year of a three-year contract followed by no increases in the next two years.
A separate contract covering 140 technical and clerical workers represented by the Association of Westinghouse Salaried Employees also expired on August 18. The association’s parent union has agreed to a contract extension.
Vandenburgh has called the company’s headquarters in New Jersey and asked for a resumption of talks. He expresses confidence that an agreement will be reached even as his members continue to display the pride and determination that has typified the work force at the last U.S. plant to carry the Westinghouse name.
Even as Westinghouse went into financial ruin in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Electro-Mechanical Division thrived on its diet as a “sole-source” supplier for the nuclear Navy’s critical-function hardware. EMD had also carved a niche as a supplier of key equipment to the commercial nuclear power industry.
As the U.S. nuclear industry declined after the accident at Three Mile Island in 1978, EMD continued to supply spare parts and refurbished motors to existing nuclear plants.
EMD’s deal signed with China in 2007 will supply new equipment for AP1000 nuclear-generating stations. The plant is expected to supply similar equipment to recently permitted nuclear reactors under construction in the U.S.
A history of the plant on Local 1914’s Web site recounts how several multinational corporations had purchased the facility’s assets only to spin them off later on. The Web site states: