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Meatpacking developments.

Meatpacking developments Efforts to overcome a shortage of workers led the Excel Corp., one of the largest companies in the meatpacking industry, to agree to a 3-year contract with Local 540 of the Food and Commercial Workers, representing some 1,500 workers at the company's plant in Friona, TX. Contrary to the wage cuts and freezes that were negotiated in the industry in the 1980's, the Excel accord provided for "substantial" wage increases and for a shorter wage progression. The company agreed to these terms to "attract a better qualified applicant," explaining, "You just can't attract people, particularly the higher skilled at $6 per hour" (the entry rate under the prior contract).

The terms call for a 70-cent increase in base rates over the contract term, raising the rate for employees in beef slaughter operations to $8.70 an hour and for employees in fabrication work to $8.60 an hour. The 70-cent raise is comprised of a 20-cent-per-hour bonus paid under the expired contract that was rolled into the base rate effective April 30, 1991, 15-cent-an-hour raises in May of 1991 and 1992, and a 20-cent increase in April 1993. In addition, the time required for new hires to progress to the base rate was shortened, while the new-hire starting rate was increased. Under the expired contract, the starting rate for new hires was $2 less than the base, with advancement to the base rate in 2 years. Under the new contract, the new-hire starting rate in the first year will be $1 below the base rate, and progresses in 25-cent increments to the base rate after 1 year. In the second year, the starting rate will be 50 cents below the base rate, and will advance to the base rate in 6 months, while in the final year the new-hire rate will reach the base rate after 90 days.

Other terms of the settlement call for the continuation of the comprehensive health care plan with no employee contributions toward premiums. Changes to the health care plan include $1 million lifetime major medical coverage (previously, $750,000), establishment of vision and dental care benefits, a "prescription drug card" program with employees paying $5 per prescription (previously, $1.50), an annual deductible of $150 (previously, $100), continuation of the 20/80 copayment, and "out-of-pocket" (catastrophic) costs of $2,000 per individual and $4,000 per family (previously, no cap). In addition, terms call for work rule changes such as the loss of seniority if the employee is absent from work for more than 18 months for any reason (including layoffs or extended illness), and the termination of employees with whom the company has reached a final settlement for disability claims.

Elsewhere, an agreement on ergonomic issues which was reached earlier this year between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 304A, and John Morrell & Co. was recently approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (Secretary of Labor v. John Morrell & Co., OSHRC, Docket Nos. 87-635 and 88-2522, 4/27/90). The 4-year agreement, which covers some 2,000 employees in Morrell's Sioux Falls, SD, plant, established a comprehensive program to reduce injuries caused by repetitive motion, commonly referred to as cumulative trauma disorders. In exchange for Morrell's acceptance of ergonomic monitoring, medical management, and specific protocols for medical treatment of work-related injuries, OSHA substantially reduced a $5.3 million proposed fine (the largest OSHA had ever levied against any one company) to $990,000 for ergonomic and recordkeeping violations at the Sioux Falls meatpacking plant. In addition, the company agreed to make a $250,000 grant to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for the continuing study of musculoskeletal injuries.

Specific terms of the ergonomics agreement included:

* retaining an ergonomics consultant to address ergonomic stressors related to the various types of upper extremity cumulative trauma disorders;

* determining ergonomic stressors related to cumulative trauma disorders (for example, force, position, repetition, and vibration);

* evaluating, testing, and implementing OSHA recommended abatements that potentially can materially reduce or eliminate ergonomic stressors;

* developing and implementing an ergonomic education program at the plant to acquaint supervisors and employees with the early signs and causes of cumulative trauma disorders, their means of prevention, and the importance of the early reporting of symptoms;

* establishing an ergonomics training program for new and reassigned workers at the plant who begin working in production jobs using knives;

* developing a medical management program for work-related cumulative trauma disorders at the plant, including retaining a medical consultant knowledgeable about cumulative trauma disorders and providing proper medical diagnosis, treatment, and followup;

* instituting an ergonomics monitoring program with five "monitors" appointed by the union and trained to identify potential ergonomic problems relating to cumulative trauma disorders and potential methods to reduce or eliminate these problems; and

* taking steps to correct conditions leading to recordkeeping violations.
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Title Annotation:Developments in industrial relations; Excel Corp.
Author:Cimini, Michael H.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Aug 1, 1990
Previous Article:Aerospace update.
Next Article:Copper pact.

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