WEATHERSFIELD RMI union: Retirement incentives could help end dispute

Workers have been locked out of the Weathersfield mill for three months.
WEATHERSFIELD -- A union leader representing about 380 locked-out workers at RMI Titanium says retirement incentives would go a long way toward resolving a 13-week-old contract dispute there.
Todd Weddell, president of United Steelworkers of America Locals 2155 and 2155-7, said work rule changes are among the major sticking points in talks, which have been scheduled weekly since Jan. 7. Another session was set for 10 a.m. today.
The dispute
The company wants rule changes to allow workers to move from job to job, a cost-saving measure that would likely result in permanent layoffs, Weddell said. Union leaders will have a hard time getting members to approve such changes now, he explained, because they will mean job losses for younger workers who generally have the least seniority.
If the work rule changes were combined with retirement incentives, however, older workers would be more likely to retire, he said, allowing low seniority workers to move up and reducing the need for layoffs.
"It's a nice clean way to do things. It's a one shot deal, they pay the incentives up front," Weddell said.
So far, he said, company officials have not been willing to consider adding retirement incentives. RMI spokesman Richard Leone declined to comment.
Weddell said bargaining sessions held this month have been unproductive. "This is not negotiation by any means," he said. "All the company issues are still on the table."
Informational picketing
RMI hourly workers have been manning informational picket lines outside the plant since managers locked the plant gates Oct. 26, two days after the union members voted to reject what the company called its final contract offer. Salaried workers are operating the mill.
The locked-out workers have been getting state unemployment checks since late November, when an Ohio Department of Job and Family Services hearing officer ruled the situation a lockout, which means they are entitled to receive benefits.
The company appealed that decision with the Ohio Unemployment Review Commission, however, and is asking the state to terminate the benefits.
David Kubli, chief hearing officer, said the commission has requested a transcript of the Job and Family Services hearing. Once it receives the transcript, the commission has 14 days to act.
Three possibilities
After reviewing the transcript, the three-person panel can either hold another hearing on the matter, send the matter back to Job and Family Services for reconsideration, or reject the appeal.
If the commission rejects the appeal, he said, the company would have to go to court to appeal the matter further. If RMI wins its appeal, Kubli said, workers would be directed to repay the benefits they've received.