Context on Contract Negotiations

As new contract negotiations progress, a few points of discussion have been raised, and we want you to have all the relevant information. The Erie Times-News recently published a story previewing the talks, but there’s more that we’d like employees to know.

Caterpillar got a raise, but Wabtec already pays more.

Moving into negotiations, the UE has referenced the recent Caterpillar contract as a frame of reference for the new Wabtec Erie contract. CAT’s recent contract is a good step up for their employees, but your compensation is higher here.

CAT’s production workers’ wages start at $17.00/hour under the new agreement and will be $20.47/hour in 2028. So even at the end of their new contract, CAT workers will be paid less than the Erie Production Tech’s current starting wage. And employees in Erie already have a well-documented path to higher pay in the current contract. In addition to wages, employees at Wabtec receive a total compensation package, including benefits and overtime, that is among the best in Erie.

The new grievance process isn’t perfect, but it’s resolving issues.

Since the new collective bargaining agreement took effect, the number of grievances has trended downward. While there were more than 700 grievances filed from the beginning of the contract through 2020, only 188 were filed in 2022. The process has eased friction in the work environment. In fact, throughout the life of this contract, 60% of all the grievances were filed in the first 19 months, which was likely a sign of growing pains.

The arbitration system, where a third party evaluates the situation, is an effective way to resolve these issues where the two sides disagree. The company’s decision was upheld in eight of the ten arbitrations. In the most recent settlement the union won, and the company learned from the process. That serves as an example of the grievance process working.

A fair, good-faith grievance process decided by a neutral third party based on the facts is a value-add to any operation. All parties benefit from that kind of process, and ours is trending the right way.

Temporary transfers improve flexibility, making us more dependable for our customers.

One issue that was brought up in the article is the transferring of qualified employees to perform work needed to deliver to our customers. These transfers may mean employees have to do tasks that are less familiar and may change the jobs they’re used to doing every day. We understand that this can be unpopular for some individuals.

We’ve implemented these transfers to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding product mix — our customers are asking for many types of locomotives, and we have to do things differently to build more types of products. When we’re more flexible, we can deliver on time and, ultimately, bring more orders in, which keeps us all working where we’re needed.  

We all want these negotiations to go well.

In the Erie Times-News story, there was a quote from UE 506 President Scott Slawson saying, “We would never enter into negotiations with the intent of a lockout or strike. If you think that is what is going to happen, you are approaching it all wrong.”

Similarly, the company wants to agree on a contract that helps us compete for more work from our customers while being good for employees. When Wabtec and Erie work together, good things happen.