Alcoa and the United Steelworkers are returning to the bargaining table this week to begin negotiating a new master agreement for 10 of the company's plants, including Alcoa Davenport Works.

The steelworkers' current four-year contract will expire at midnight, May 15.

According to Mike Nicholas, the financial secretary for the USW Local 105, Bettendorf, the contract traditionally expired May 31, but negotiators agreed to an earlier date during the last contract talks to avoid going until Memorial Day. 

He said a team of local union leaders left Sunday for Pittsburgh to be part of the negotiation talks, which will begin Wednesday. Local 105 is being represented in talks by Jeff Hartford, union president; Brad Greve, vice president; Robert Bartholomew, second vice president; and Pat Stock, recording secretary.

The new master agreement covers more than 5,000 employees at 10 plants and 11 locals, including more than 1,700 union members at Davenport Works, he said. Of the units, Local 105 is the largest local.

The other locals are at Alcoa units in Alcoa, Tenn.; Gum Springs, Ark.; Lafayette and Warrick, Ind.; two in Massena, N.Y.; Point Comfort and Rockdale, Texas; Wenatchee, Wash.; and Badin, N.C.

Negotiations officially began at an April 10 kick-off session, at which both sides presented opening statements and exchanged proposals.

Nicholas said the biggest issue for the union will be two-tier pensions and retirements, which it is against.

"The company wants two-tier all around — retirement and health care. They want new hires to go on the salaried healthcare plan, Choices. They claim it gives employees more choices. We feel it gives employees more chances to fail," he said. Nicholas added that the union is concerned about young members choosing one plan, then getting a serious illness and not having enough coverage.  

"We want everybody to be treated the same," Nicholas said. "The retirees out there now fought for us, and we want to fight for future generations."

Davenport Works spokesman John Riches declined to discuss the contract's specific issues, but said "We're competing against lower cost producers. Our labor and benefit costs need to be competitive."

At the company's master agreement web page, Alcoa said health care remains a significant cost. Alcoa spent nearly $83 million in 2013 on health care coverage for active master agreement employees. Health care inflation for large employers is expected to increase more than 6 percent in 2014, which would be nearly $5 million for Alcoa.

In the opening session, Alcoa offered the same master healthcare plan for current employees with adjustments to specific plan provisions. Future employee contribution rates will discussed in negotiations, according to the website. Alcoa is proposing a benefits plan for new hires similar to the package it offers more than 17,000 U.S. employees. 

Nicholas said the 2010 contract held off the two-tier system ''and will be fighting it off this time too." 

Local 105 will hold an informational picket from 2-4 p.m. Thursday outside the Riverdale plant. ''We want to picket now so we don't have to picket during a work stoppage," he said.

Alcoa's last strike was in 1986, Riches said.

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