From Evansville Courier & Press
FAIRFIELD, IL — Talks between Airtex Products and the United Auto Workers Local 543 failed to produce an agreement Thursday night, resulting in a strike at the company’s three auto parts plants in Fairfield, Ill. The five-year contract expired at midnight Thursday without an agreement, affecting 539 hourly union members.
Airtex Products is a manufacturer of automotive water and fuel pumps for both new vehicle production and the aftermarket.
“Although the union is currently on strike, talks are continuing,” said Airtex spokesman Chet McMullen. “The company is hopeful that a settlement can be reached.” While neither side has commented publicly about the issues standing in the way of a new agreement, many rank-and-file members on the picket lines say health insurance and seniority are major obstacles.
“I’ve been through these before and it isn’t pleasant,” said Fairfield Mayor Mickey Borah, who retired in 1997 after a 30-year career as a plant superintendent at Airtex.
“I just hope that they can continue talking and can get these issues worked out and get back to work,” Borah said.
The last major strike by Airtex workers came in 1978 and lasted 135 days.
That strike ended on Aug. 4, 1978, when the union voted 263-242 to accept a new three-year agreement that featured an 85-cents-per-hour wage increase in the first two years of the contract. There was also a one-day strike recorded in 1984.
The most recent five-year pact went into effect on Aug. 13, 1999, and was approved by about 100 votes among the union’s 600 members. Union membership has since dwindled to 539.
Community leaders and area labor officials throughout the region have been watching this latest contract process closely, since Airtex came under new ownership in May of last year. Airtex is now owned by United Components, Inc., with corporate headquarters in Evansville, Ind.
The new owners came into existence after the former parent company, New Jersey-based UIS, Inc., was sold to the Carlyle Group, a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm for a reported $800 million.
Tension between the union and the company has been growing since last May when Airtex officials announced plans to close two of the company’s three plants in Fairfield, shipping much of its production to a facility in Marked Tree, Ark.
The plant’s die cast operation is also slated to be shipped out of state.
One of the plants, near downtown Fairfield, and another plant on the city’s south side are still slated for closing as part of a corporate consolidation process.
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