An 11-day Centralia strike could cost the company $10-15 million, according to sources close to the deal.
The strike officially ended Tuesday at 10 a.m., after 500 union members voted on, and approved the new three-year contract.
Workers for Hubbell Power Systems, formally AB Chance, walked out on Nov. 8 in protest of a contract that would have eliminated health insurance benefits for retirees. The new agreement delays that for a year, essentially giving older workers time to decide if they want to retire before the benefits go away.
"Everybody was very happy, very happy that this is all behind us now," said union representative Andrew Given. "Now we can go back to work, go on with our normal lives."
For the past 10 days, Given has been trying to hammer out a deal. But it wasn't until Monday when both sides were able to come to an agreement - after 16 straight hours of "intense" negotiating. Hubbell reps flew to Columbia from their Connecticut-based headquarters for the meeting.
Sources say the company didn't think the Centralia workers would go through with strike, given current economic conditions, and were taken by surprise when they did.
"It was unfortunate we had to go through the situation we did to reach an agreement," said Given. "But we're very thankful we were able to reach an agreement."
The union hall in Centralia was empty Tuesday evening, except for a few employees that were quietly celebrating. Union reps say everyone's looking forward to getting back to work Wednesday. Third-shift workers had the option of starting Tuesday night, but everyone will be back on the job by 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.
So was it worth it? "Yes," Given said without having to think. "We did make some gains in some areas where the membership felt we were losing."
The last time workers at AB Chance went on strike was in 2000 - that lasted just one weekend. Before that, the last time workers walked a picket line was in 1962. That strike lasted three and a half months.
Company officials haven't returned calls for comment.
The new three-year deal is all gains for the union, since nothing was taken away.
"There were other gains across the board," said Given. "Some of them small, some of them big."
While Givens wouldn't go into detail, he said the other gains "affect people on a wide spectrum."
Here is what we know about the new three-year contract:
- Employers can't strike for three years.
- Health benefits for retired workers won't be eliminated right away, but in one year. This gives older workers time to decide if they want to retire before the benefits go away.
- Each employee will get an $800 bonus for signing the new contract.