Kohler strike continues today

Kohler alternator assembly
A Kohler employee assembles an alternator.

More than a thousand Kohler Co. union members, along with other local union and community members, marched this morning to advocate for a new contract.

Kohler alternator assembly
A Kohler employee assembles an alternator.

The more than 2,100 members of UAW Local 833 went on strike on Sunday over what union financial secretary Dave Boucher calls a substantial wage disparity between employees and an unfair health insurance proposal. Almost 94 percent of the union rejected what Kohler called its “last, best and final contract offer.”

“We are open to the two sides sitting down if and when the company would decide to contact us to resume talks,” said Boucher, adding that it is hard to say how long the strike may last.

The last strike employees went on was in 1983 and lasted approximately two weeks, he said.

Kohler issued a statement on Sunday saying: “Kohler Co. is very disappointed that our final offer was not accepted by our associates and is concerned that union officials may have misrepresented what could be achieved in a strike. A work stoppage like this will unfortunately cost our associates and can negatively influence our desire to grow jobs in this location. It is a fair offer for all that continues to maintain local jobs above the region’s norm, supports continued permanent job growth at our Wisconsin operations now and for future generations, and ensures all associates are financially ahead each year of the contract term.”

According to the company, the contract proposal offered wage and benefit increases during each year of the contract, an increase of the pension multiplier for eligible associates, increases across the board in life insurance, short-term and long-term disability and other insurance benefits, and more health care options.

Boucher said the union is not satisfied with the insurance proposal, however, because he said the premiums are scheduled to see “a very large increase” during the life of the contract.

“We need some improvement on the part of the company on that issue,” he said.

As for the union’s other issue, the wage disparity, Boucher said the union wants wage parity for Tier A and Tier B employees. He said the disparity now is “very substantial.”

“We want equal pay for equal work,” he said.

According to the company’s statement, “The contract proposal would keep Tier A wage associates in the 86th percentile of local market wage rates and among the highest paid in the area, while newer Tier B associates would receive an immediate pay increase averaging more than 20 percent.

“A new lower cost HRA medical plan option, and the opportunity to earn wellness credits and discounts would reduce monthly contributions. If members had voted to accept our offer, Tier A associates would have received a $1,200 bonus and Tier B associates a $1,000 bonus. This could cover the increase in health care premiums in the three years of the agreement.”

Until talks resume, picketing will continue, Boucher said.

“There’s just a lot of activity out here,” said Boucher of the picketing. “We’re going to continue with this with the idea that those (picketing) locations will be filled with picketers around the clock going forward.

“We are open to discussion with the company, and we’ll continue to seek a contract that is fair and equitable for all our employees and I do emphasize all.”

According to the company statement, Kohler said uninterrupted work will be assured. Kohler is welcoming production associates to report to work as normal, and if they do, they will receive their current wage and benefits.

“The company is prepared to implement plans to ensure that all customer product and service needs are met,” the statement said.

Headquartered in Kohler, Kohler Co. is one of America’s oldest and largest privately-held companies comprised of more than 34,000 associates with more than 50 manufacturing locations worldwide. The company makes plumbing products, furniture, cabinetry, tile, engines and generators.

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