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UE Local 704 Wins Sick Time, Highest Percent Raises in Local History

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CINCINNATI, OH—Members of UE Local 704, who handle liquid and bulk commodities like bulk salt, fertilizer, petroleum, and chemicals at a marine terminal on the Ohio River, ratified their second contract with Watco on April 8, 2024. Prior to 2016, Kinder-Morgan had employed Local 704 members. While the battle for an initial contract with the new company took two years of difficult negotiations, the successor agreement negotiations took only three days. Members had more bargaining power due to the company’s ongoing struggle to attract and retain DOT-certified employees in the greater Cincinnati area. 

As essential workers in the logistics industry, Local 704 members were never allowed to shelter in place to protect their health during the pandemic. Unfortunately, their first contract with Watco did not have any sick time. “We had to work hard no matter what,” said Vice President Jeremiah Jackson, “I don’t understand why they couldn’t just give us some sick days. Covid gave me pneumonia, and then the company disciplined me for attendance when I missed work. At lots of other jobs people got some help.” Shortly before bargaining, Watco disciplined another member when he didn’t report to work immediately after testing positive for Covid. The entire membership agreed this had to change. 

After discussing contract ideas for a year in monthly membership meetings, the members decided to adopt an aggressive bargaining platform that included substantial wage increases, the introduction of sick time to the contract, and multiple proposals to improve workplace safety. They won an initial wage increase of 7.5 percent, the highest in the history of the local, and four paid sick days per year with no attendance penalty as part of an improved attendance policy.  

The members were also able to gain contract language to keep them safer at their high-risk, all-weather jobs on the river, including wellness checks for members working alone and a requirement for a manager or supervisor to be on site whenever bargaining unit members are working. Watco proposed concessions on the regular work week and holidays, but Local 704 protected their regular Monday through Friday work week and maintained the current holiday structure. In addition to several language improvements in the contract that will help protect the members from unnecessary scheduling of weekend work, they will now receive four hours straight time pay if Watco cancels weekend overtime at the last minute. An improved union leave policy gives Local 704 members the opportunity for more union involvement at the regional and national levels. 

President Matt Hembree said, “Going into negotiations was stressful because we were not sure what was going to happen. Last time was so difficult, but it was clear that now they know they need us to get the work done. Becoming the highest paid hourly Watco employees and top wage earners in our category in Cincinnati, as well as finally getting sick time, is a huge win for Local 704 and we are excited to share our win with other UE members when the Western Regional Council comes to Cinicinnati this fall!” 

The Local 704 bargaining committee consisted of President Matt Hembree and Vice President Jeremiah Jackson. They were assisted by Field Organizer Heather Hillenbrand.

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