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Latest News - December 2011

December 11, 2011
Local union cries foul over contract with company that makes Oscars
Source: Sun Times

Oscar buzz has filled the air, but this time it’s not about the nominees.

The union that represents the makers of the iconic Academy Award statue is crying foul over contract negotiations with the Chicago-based awards manufacturer.

Teamsters Local 743 blasted the North Side establishment, R.S. Owens & Co., for proposing a three-year deal that includes a wage freeze, cuts to health care benefits and less vacation time for its 50 union employees.

Owens president Scott Siegel, however, said the union is spreading inaccuracies that could jeopardize the company’s most important account: the Oscars.

The Teamsters claim workers earn no more than $13 an hour and that Owens brought in $31 million in revenue last year, but Siegel said those figures are far from true.

He said the company is asking for concessions, including a more-than-100 percent increase to employee health care contributions.

“There’s no loss in pay,” Siegel said. “We are negotiating an increase in pay in exchange for those concessions,” and that would come in a “pay for performance” format.

Workers did not get a raise in their last contract, which expired Nov. 15 and has been extended through December. Many employees have also volunteered to work fewer hours during the last 10 months to help the company save money, according to the union.

“It basically comes down to the fact that [workers] feel they have been sacrificing a lot for the company,” said Will Petty, communications director for Teamsters Joint Council 25, a consortium of area Teamster locals. “To be asked to live without any sort of wage increase for nearly 10 years is absurd.”

Many businesses in the award recognition industry have been struggling in recent years to stay afloat, and nearly all televised award shows now get their trophies from China, according to Siegel.

“Over the last 10 years, we have lost one prestigious award after another,” he said. “Never once has the union done anything to help us by putting pressure on the actors’ guilds or writers’ guilds or any of those unions to demand that the awards be made by a union factory in the United States.”

“If a union only appears every three years for negotiations of a contract and doesn’t do anything in between to help employees prosper and help companies prosper, I don’t think that’s an effective union,” added Siegel, who was a former Chicago Public Schools teacher and member of the Chicago Teachers Union.

The Teamsters have not ruled out a strike against Owens should the workers elect a work stoppage. So far production has not been interrupted.

As for the Academy Awards in February, Siegel said there are plenty of Oscar statuettes ready for the big show, regardless of a strike.



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