Work at Arconic? Let us know what you think of the contract and what the workers should be fighting for.
On Wednesday, about 3,400 Arconic aluminum manufacturing workers in Iowa, Tennessee, Indiana and New York will vote on a tentative agreement negotiated and approved by the United Steelworkers union.
The World Socialist Website urges Arconic workers to overwhelmingly reject USW’s miserable pro-corporate contract proposal.
A defiant rejection of the deal should be seen as the starting point for workers to organize independently and prepare a counter-offensive for higher wages and benefits. Rank-and-file committees should be set up in each factory to draw up a list of demands based on what all workers really need and to really prepare to fight for them, including setting a deadline for a walkout.
USW sell-out deal passed Wednesday would result in income for workers less in real terms by the end of the four-year contract than they are doing now.
The agreement provides increases of 7% in the first year and 4.5% in each of the following three years, under conditions where inflation is currently at 8.5%. If inflation remains at its current rate, real wages would fall by around 14% during the contract.
In addition to below-inflation raises, the contract removes the “Pay for Performance” (PFP) incentive compensation system, which workers have relied on after years of USW contracts with stagnant base pay increases. The deal would include signing bonuses of $2,000 this year and $2,000 in 2023, a substantial portion of which will be eaten up by taxes and union dues.
The USW announced the tentative agreement on May 14, less than a day before the previous contract expired, despite unanimous strike authorization votes by workers earlier in the month. The USW has not called a strike among aluminum workers since 1986, when the plants were still part of Alcoa, which created Arconic in 2016.
The blatantly inadequate terms of the contract caused widespread anger. Workers are particularly outraged at being deemed “essential” during the pandemic, only to have Arconic and USW come back with a contract proposal that would set back their standard of living.
On social media, workers conducted several informal polls showing an overwhelming majority opposed to the deal, with many campaigning for a resounding “no” on Wednesday.
Highlighting the impact of rising fuel prices, a worker commented on Facebook on Tuesday: “Gasoline in Illinois is $5.50 a gallon, how much more does that go up? The increase we are offered will be for what you need to get to work. Rising cost of living. We need a better deal. Think when you vote.
Others denounced the USW for pushing the deal, with another worker writing: “We are being played. The way I see it is that even if we vote ‘no’, the union will resume negotiations, but we will continue to work for the company to make more money. What good is the strike authorization vote if we don’t use it??? We should strike right after the votes are counted, otherwise we will be bluffing and society knows it…”
Another worker simply wrote, “I don’t want a fair contract. I ask for a good one.
Workers voiced their opposition in forums created independently of the USW, as the union bureaucracy sought to muzzle critical comments. Iowa Local 105, for example, has disabled comments on the vast majority of its Facebook posts since the deal was announced.
While censuring the workers, USW officials hailed the pro-company deal, misrepresenting it as a victory. “Our committee approved the contract unanimously. I don’t foresee any problem with that,” Tony Montana, a USW spokesperson, said arrogantly. Quadruple Cities Business Journal.
But the company has made it clear that this is the contract it wants. John Riches, head of communications and public affairs at Arconic Davenport Works, told the same publication: “We believe this agreement achieves our goal of rewarding our employees for their commitment as essential workers while enabling our business to grow for future sustainability.”
Arconic management is counting on the USW to sell the deal to the workers, hoping to impose a contract that will allow the company to extract even greater profits from the workers.
In 2021, Arconic saw increased sales and profits. The company posted revenue of $7.5 billion, up 32% from a year earlier, and adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, a measure of profitability ) of $712 million, an increase of 15%.
As the company tries to force real wage cuts on workers, it has handed out huge sums to shareholders and top executives. Arconic has authorized $300 million in share buybacks over the past two years and gave CEO Tim Myers a total compensation package of $10.6 million in 2021, up a staggering 69% from what he had received the previous year.
Arconic workers occupy a strategically important position, manufacturing aluminum products that are essential for Ford’s F-150 pickup trucks and Boeing’s commercial aircraft. This powerful position, however, is precisely why the USW is seeking to avoid a strike. A walkout would threaten to disrupt key sectors of the U.S. economy, galvanize a rebellion among broader sections of workers for higher wages, and undermine the Biden administration’s escalating proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.
USW’s efforts to pass Arconic’s demands are consistent with its conduct in other industries. Just last weekend, the USW struck a miserable pro-company deal at Chevron, shutting down and betraying a two-month strike by 500 oil refinery workers in California’s Bay Area. This agreement also included increases well below inflation, with wage increases totaling just 12% over four years. The contract the USW put to a snap vote on Saturday was even worse than the contract Richmond Chevron workers twice rejected in March.
Earlier this year, the USW intimidated 30,000 oil and gas workers nationwide into accepting a contract with real wage cuts. The union announced a tentative agreement just days after USW President Tom Conway met with Biden. The USW later bragged that the deal was “a responsible contract that does not raise prices or inflationary pressures.” In other words, the USW has strangled workers’ wages low enough to be acceptable to corporate America and the political establishment.
But Arconic workers, like their brothers and sisters at John Deere, CNH and elsewhere, are determined to secure substantial improvements in their wages, benefits and working conditions.
Rampant inflation, degrading working conditions and obscene levels of inequality are driving workers around the world to struggle, including thousands of car transporters and 15,000 nurses in Minnesota. Either way, workers come into conflict with pro-corporate unions, which for decades have functioned as representatives of management, imposing concession after concession.
In response, a growing number of workers have begun to organize independently, launching rank-and-file committees at John Deere, Volvo Trucks, CNH and among educators and nurses over the past year. These committees provided a means for workers to share information between workplaces and outside of official channels, as well as to counter the propaganda of the companies and their lackeys in the unions.
A “no” vote at Arconic is only the first step. For Arconic workers to secure their interests – including significant pay raises, cost-of-living increases to hedge against inflation, fully paid health benefits, serious relief from grueling overtime, and more – new organizations, democratically controlled by the workers themselves, are needed. Such committees, unlike the USW, will start from the non-negotiable needs of workers, not what companies claim they can afford.
The WSWS will provide all possible assistance to help establish and organize these committees. To discuss forming a committee, complete the form below: