United Electrical workers picket ABB manufacturer offices in Forest Hills | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

United Electrical workers picket ABB manufacturer offices in Forest Hills

click to enlarge UE union members outside of ABB offices in Forest Hills - PHOTO: UE LOCALS 625 AND 626
Photo: UE Locals 625 and 626
UE union members outside of ABB offices in Forest Hills
Union members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) formed a picket line in front of the Forest Hills offices of their employer, industrial equipment manufacturer ABB, on Thu., Nov. 14  to decry changes it made to worker benefits without consulting union leadership. 

The picket line — comprised of members of the UE Locals 625 and 626 — is a response to ABB decreasing their wage proposal and revoking their offer to add money to the workers’ medical saving plans. UE members have been working without a contract since Nov. 1, the day their previous contract expired.

“ABB has engaged in regressive bargaining, which is an unfair labor practice and a clear violation of labor law,” UE Local 625 President Gary Williams said in a press release.

ABB is a Swiss-based electronics and robotics company that manufactures high-voltage circuits and breakers for global distribution at its plants in western Pennsylvania. As of this month, the company is worth about $46 billion. The 12 months prior to October of this year, ABB made $28 billion in revenue, a 38% increase over the same time span last year.

Locals 625 and 626 represent workers at both the Mount Pleasant and Greensburg ABB plants. Union members protested ABB for unfair labor practices and poor health care.

ABB spokesperson Christopher Shigas wrote in a statement to City Paper that
“ABB is currently in discussions for a collective bargaining agreement with the unionized employees at our facilities in Mount Pleasant and Greensburg, Pennsylvania" and that ABB offers "employees a competitive compensation package along with a comprehensive suite of health and welfare and retirement benefits.”

The group of more than a dozen union members was joined by state Rep. Summer Lee (D-Swissvale). ABB offices are within Lee's district. Several other supporters joined the picket line, and about 50 people participated in the demonstration in Forest Hills. 

ABB has requested the ability to change the company's health-care plan without union bargaining. Union negotiators believe this will have a detrimental effect on workers, as the company could opt for plans with higher deductibles and less extensive coverage.

Improving health care is a key goal in UE negotiations, as many workers feel their current health coverage is inadequate. According to a UE union Facebook post, “a questionnaire distributed by the union prior to negotiations revealed that many ABB workers are in severe medical debt, and many others avoid using the insurance because they can’t afford the deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.”

Local 625 member Sharon Johnston — who has worked at the Mount Pleasant ABB plant for 19 years — referred to the company's insurance as the “don’t get sick plan” because of the high out-of-pocket expenses. Johnston, whose father had cancer, has been putting off going to the dermatologist because she would not be able to afford the $600 copay.

The Japanese company Hitachi recently purchased around 80% of the ABB Power Grids division — which includes the Westmoreland County plants — in an $11 billion deal. The company, which will become the majority shareholder when the purchase is officially closed in 2020, has already entered into deals to acquire the remaining 20% of the division. In August, Hitachi told UE organizers in California it will accept all existing U.S. union contracts.

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