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Workers: Wind company not honoring contract

A Gamesa union representative is taking the Spanish wind turbine company to task for failing to establish a contract-mandated incentive package that would reward workers who take part in extra training programs.

Officials at the company, which makes wind-generating towers used to produce electricity, and the United Steelworkers Union both said they were committed to the program.

But Maurice Wigglesworth, a union leader in the company’s Falls blades plant, said he’s tired of waiting and so are the 200 or so union employees he represents.

“This should have been done and ready by December,” Wigglesworth said. “Then January, February and March went by. Now it’s been four months.”

The contract between Gamesa and the union called for a series of voluntary training programs that would allow employees to learn other skills beyond their current duties. The company would then increase the pay for those cross-trained workers.

The contract stipulates that the training programs and pay incentives be established and implemented in the blades facility within six months of the contract’s ratification last June.

Wigglesworth said he has filed a grievance against the company with its human resources department. “I don’t know what else to do,” he said.

Wigglesworth added that union employees are eager to start learning more skills and reaching higher pay grades.

In response to questions, a company spokesman submitted a short statement on the issue.

“Gamesa is committed to the program and it’s on our short list,” said Michael Peck, director of media, institutional and labor relations for Gamesa North America.

United Steelworkers Union negotiator Rob Witherell, who handled the Gamesa talks, said the union and the company must hammer out a number of issues first, including what the training programs will cover, how many people can enroll and the size of the incentives.

Part of the delay, Witherell said, was due to the need to fill a key vacancy in the human resources department. The company has also been struggling through some problems in its towers plant, he added.

Last month, Gamesa laid off about 70 workers. At the time, company officials said the workers – mostly welders – were underperforming and their mistakes were causing delays that cost the company money.

“They’ve had a lot going on, on their end,” said Witherell. “Part of it is that our schedules just haven’t matched up. But we’ve got bargaining dates set for April 29 and April 30.”

Witherell urged Wigglesworth and the workers he represents to be patient.

“He has some expectations, and fair enough,” he said. “But it takes time to get the information together and get people to focus on it. …The more we’ve dug into it, the more complicated [the program] has become. I don’t think it’s the fault of the union or the company. It’s a complicated issue and we want to get it right.”

Workers in the blades facility who have passed their probationary periods earn salaries that range from $13.25 an hour to $21 an hour, depending on job responsibilities. The contract calls for 3-percent increases this June and in June 2009.

The deal is Gamesa’s first-ever U.S. union contract. When it was ratified, it covered 400 employees at the Falls plant and another 200 at a Gamesa facility in western Pennsylvania.

John Anastasi

Bucks County Courier Times


12 April 2008