Unions move away from concessions

Employers with serious financial troubles once again have received contract concessions from major unions. But those concessions were for less than sought, as organized labor continues to move away from the substantial give-backs of 1982.

The country's three largest aluminum producers and the United Steelworkers Union announced over the Memorial Day weekend a three-year settlement without increases in sick pay, but with continued cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) and an estimated 3.6 percent increase in benefits.

According to the union, the concessions it gave were less than those in 1982 bargaining in the auto, rubber, trucking, and other major industries and less than in 1983 transportation agreements. The steelworkers, followed by the much smaller Aluminum Workers union, avoided wage reductions or COLA concessions.

The steelworkers' settlement with the Aluminum Company of America, Reynolds Metals Company, and Kaiser Aluminum Company covers 25,900 workers with wage scales averaging between $13 and $14 an hour. The three companies estimated wages and benefits under old contracts at about $23 an hour. They asked for a $1 .25-an-hour cut in wages, which would range from $11.40 to $14.76 an hour.

In separate talks, the Aluminum, Brick, and Glass Workers also signed three-year contracts with ALCOA and Reynolds, covering another 15,900 workers. These contracts were similar in major aspects to those signed by the steelworkers' union.

The settlements came as 1980 contracts were about to run out at midnight May 31.

A. Robert Moffett, spokesman for the United Steelworkers, described the ALCOA , Reynolds, and Kaiser settlements as ''a major achievement, quite frankly, because all three companies lost money in the first quarter of 1983.''

An aluminum industry official called the settlement ''good,'' but said the terms ''are not as helpful to us as we would have liked.''

Concessionary bargaining showed signs of weakening in late 1982, with union members again pressing their negotiators to resist employers' demand for give-backs at bargaining tables. In railroad negotiations earlier this year, labor's toughened opposition to wage cuts and benefit concessions led to a series of strikes. While the outlook for the bargaining ahead this summer and fall is still for moderation, smaller concessions are expected.

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