Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2012, 6:45 pm

Nichols and union approve new five-year contract

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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

After nearly a year of contract negotiations, members of the Teamsters union, Local 371, overwhelmingly have ratified a new five-year agreement with Nichols Aluminum of Davenport, which produces flat-rolled aluminum sheet metal.

Negotiations began last Oct. 6, with the last contract expiring Nov. 15. Members worked without a contract until a strike began. The local was on strike from Jan. 20 until April 6, two days after Nichols made more than 100 temporary employees permanent.

During the strike, Nichols continued to run its Davenport plants at 1725 Rockingham Road and 2101 J.M. Morris Boulevard with salaried staff and the temporary employees.

"I'm proud of my members for sticking together for as long as they did," Teamsters Local 371 President Howard Spoon said Sunday, noting just 25 members of the 200-plus who originally went on strike are waiting to be called back to work. Many went back to Nichols, and some have found jobs at other local companies like Deere and Alcoa, he said.

"It was a long, long fight, and 11 weeks of strike," Mr. Spoon said of the negotiations. "I'm glad it's finally over. My members are, too."

Concessions were made on both sides of the bargaining table on key issues such as wage increases, employee advancement and health coverage. A tentative agreement was reached with a federal mediator on Sept. 18, and the final contract (good until November 2017) was approved Thursday and Friday, Mr. Spoon said. The federal mediator assisted on negotiations earlier in September as well.

Nichols -- a division of the Houston-based Quanex Building Products Corp. -- has been headed by a new president, D. Russ Brown, since July. Among the contract provisions, union employees will get bonuses in the first two years, then wage hikes of 1.5 percent, 1.5 percent, and 2 percent in the last three, Mr. Spoon said.

The company will cover 80 percent of health insurance costs and an employee's out-of-pocket maximum payment will be $2,000 a year for an individual and $4,000 for a family, for the life of the contract, he said. Nichols also agreed to pay for training for production employees to advance to higher-paying jobs, Mr. Spoon added.