Kohler Co. union workers approve new labor contract

Will narrow pay gaps among employees

Kohler alternator assembly
A Kohler employee assembles an alternator.

Kohler Co. and members of United Auto Workers Local 833 have reached agreement on a new labor contract, the company announced.

Kohler alternator assembly
A Kohler employee assembles an alternator.

The contract covers about 2,100 Kohler Co. workers who are in production and skilled trades positions in the company’s Sheboygan County manufacturing facilities.

Union members on Sunday ratified the new employment contract, which takes effect immediately and runs through Sept. 30, 2023. The new contract includes increased wages and enhanced benefits including health care, pension and 401(k), the company said.

“We are proud to be an employer of choice in Sheboygan County, and we recognize the valued contributions of our associates,” said David Kohler, president and CEO of Kohler Co. “For 145 years, Kohler Co. has provided meaningful work and invested in the careers of all our associates. This new agreement will help sustain the long-term competitiveness of our Sheboygan-area operations, as well as ensure future opportunities for rewarding careers with skills training and advancement for our associates.”

Negotiations on this contract were a significant departure from 2015, when a labor dispute between Kohler Co. and UAW Local 833 prompted a month-long strike. The contract ending the strike included a narrower difference in pay for employees in different tiers, wage increases in each year of the contract and improved benefits.

Prior to that, the last time employees went on strike at the company was in 1983.

“The company and the union actually partnered up this time,” said Tim Tayloe, UAW Local 833 president. “We worked together to get a lot of the problem areas solved. Kohler has become an employee of choice in this area. People want jobs; it’s the place to come. I can honestly say I’m proud to be at Kohler, from 2015 to this time.”

The contract was approved by an 87 percent margin, Tayloe said. The current agreement was set to expire Sept. 30.

The agreement will narrow pay gaps among workers in different tiers. It includes an hourly increase of between $1.25 and $3.25 for lower-tier employees in the first year, with another 90-cent bump the following year and additional 65-cent increases over the course of the contract. Kohler also increased the company’s contributions to lower-tier employees’ 401(k) accounts.

“I’m impressed by what Kohler put on the table for people,” Tayloe said of the company’s 401(k) contributions.

The contract also includes a $1,000 signing bonus for upper-tier employees, but no general wage increase in the first year. Those workers will receive 55-cent increases annually beginning in 2019.

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