Union wins settlement in fight with JBLM contractor

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD — More than 200 current and former IAM 751 Machinists will share in a $165,000 settlement that has ended a legal fight with their former employer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

JoeURSa“We got what we were owed,” said union steward Richard Moe. “To URS, it’s a pittance. To us it means something. We worked for it and were promised it.”

Individual payments, based on the vacation hours the workers had accrued, will range from $19 to as high as $2,570 per person, said Joe Crockett, a business representative for Machinists Union District Lodge 751.

The settlement came after the union fought to ensure that the Machinists who had worked for URS Corp. were compensated for vacation benefits they had earned while working for the company.

“We’ve been sticking with this for more than a year and a half,” Crockett said. “The vacation issue was one of the major drivers that prompted them to vote for a union in the first place.”

The Machinists work on U.S. Army helicopters and do site maintenance at JBLM. They voted to join District 751 in December 2011 and ratified their first collective bargaining agreement in August 2012.

One of their major issues during negotiations was the way their vacation time was accrued. Midway through 2011, URS had moved to a system whereby vacation time was paid out yearly on a person’s anniversary date; this in effect took vacation time away from them.

Workers wanted it converted back to the old method, which allowed them to use vacation time as they earned it. The union’s bargaining team won that during negotiations.

However, URS managers and human resources refused to abide by the full scope of the language, instead continuing to pay the 2012 accruals as each member reached their anniversary dates in 2013. In March 2013, they quit awarding vacation time altogether, after URS lost its contract with the Army and was replaced by a new contractor, which is the union members’ current employer.

The union filed two grievances over the issue, and ended up in arbitration with URS. In October 2013, an arbitrator ruled that the language in the collective bargaining agreement was “clear and unambiguous” and ordered URS to compensate its former employees for the vacation time they’d earned “immediately.”

But in January 2014, URS filed suit in U.S. District Court to try to overturn the arbitrator’s decision.

The union had “a good, hard case” and was confident it would win in court, Crockett said. But it agreed to enter settlement negotiations with URS, rather than force members to wait for a long trial and likely appeal before they were compensated.

“To treat the workers the way URS did is morally reprehensible,” said Moe at a recent meeting where Crockett explained the details of the settlement offer. “Now, we’re looking forward to our payout.”

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at the Boeing Co., District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 33,000 working men and women at 51 employers across Washington and California.

Check out our award-winning IAM 751 YouTube channel

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