Steelworkers reach tentative agreement with BAE Systems to avert strike
A tentative agreement between United Steelworkers Local 7687 and BAE Systems was reached Wednesday after two sides met ahead of a strike deadline.
The 800 members of Local 7687 seemed primed for a strike to start at 11 a.m. Wednesday, but a meeting between the two sides turned things around.
USW District 10 Director Bernie Hall credited the workers’ commitment and solidarity for reaching the agreement and averting an unfair labor practice strike.
“After working through the pandemic making armament for the military without disruption, USW members at BAE understood what was at stake in these negotiations,” Hall said in a statement. “They earned a contract that reflects their vital role in helping safeguard our national security and in contributing to the company’s success.”
USW Local 7687 has worked under the terms of an expired contract since October 2021 at BAE, which is a military contractor in West Manchester Township.
USW Local President Brad Frey seemed certain early in the day that a strike couldn't be avoided, but things changed.
“It’s unfortunate that management forced its dedicated workers to the brink of a work stoppage before achieving this deal,” said Frey in a statement, “but USW members proved that by working together, we can overcome any challenge.”
USW members will review the details of the proposed new contract with their negotiating committee before a ratification vote, which will be scheduled as soon as possible.
The proposed agreement increases wages, strengthens retirement security and improves access to paid vacation time, according a union statement. Details of the deal were not disclosed.
USW Local 7687 withdrew its notice of its intent to hold an unfair labor practice strike.
BAE Systems was also pleased that an agreement could be reached ahead of a strike.
"We have reached a tentative agreement with the United Steelworkers Local 7687 that supports our key stakeholders and are currently awaiting ratification of the vote by the union membership," BAE Systems spokesperson Alicia Gray said.
During the negotiations over the past 11 months, the union was looking to maintain its legacy pension plan, which has been in place for 50 years, Frey said.
The last time the two sides met, Frey said, the company proposed a two-tiered plan that would allow current workers to maintain the legacy plan while people hired after Oct. 1 would go to a 401(k) plan.
“We’re not about splitting our membership and having two different pension plans,” Frey said.
Another sticking point was the insurance plan being offered by the company, he said, because of the price increases involved and, in some cases, a decrease in coverage.
The length of the contract was also seen as an issue. BAE was looking for a short agreement of two or three years, Frey said.
“Historically, we usually get a five-year contract,” Frey said. The union likes the security a longer contract brings, he said.
Frey said BAE also wants to decrease the chances for workers to earn promotions.
“Wages, of course, are an issue with inflation at an all-time high,” Frey said. “Our last wage increase we got here was in September of 2020.”
Despite the difference between the two sides, they were able to reach an agreement at the end of the day.
"Our national security mission is our imperative, and it’s our talented workforce that makes our mission possible," Gray said. "We look forward to moving together as a team in support of our armed forces."
— Reach Anthony Maenza at email@example.com or @atmaenza on Twitter.