- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A union at Howard Industries, one of Mississippi’s largest industrial employers, is protesting what it sees as low wage offers in contract negotiations.

Local 1317 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers planned a news conference Wednesday in Laurel to criticize the wage increases offered by the maker of electrical transformers. Union members have already voted down three contract offers during negotiations, most recently in April.

Howard’s vice president of human resources and its labor relations lawyer did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment Tuesday. The privately-held company is based in Laurel.

Clarence Larkins, the local union’s business manager, said Howard is offering 2,000 union represented workers at its Laurel plant only a 30-cent-an-hour raise over four years. Larkins said workers make $12.74 an hour on average in Laurel, so an extra 30 cents works out to a 2.4 percent increase over time.

At a plant in Sandersville with about 200 union-covered workers, Howard is offering a 60-cents-an-hour increase over six years. Larkins said the union won the right to represent workers in the smaller Sandersville plant about seven years ago, but said the company has never agreed to an initial contract there. Larkins said workers in Sandersville typically make $8 to $9 an hour, so 60 cents an hour would raise wages 7 percent to 8 percent over six years.

Larkins said the union has proposed higher wage increases.

He said negotiations have ceased and the company declared on May 14 that its proposals were its “last, best and final offer.” That sets the stage legally for the company to declare that negotiations are at an impasse and impose the offer in place of a contract.

Then, union members must choose whether to strike or keep working. Larkins said the union has not scheduled a strike vote. Howard workers last walked off the job in 1989, he said.

Howard employs more than 3,500 employees at all its plants, according to the Economic Development Authority of Jones County. The company also makes electronic equipment, medical equipment, lighting fixtures and runs a trucking line. Some of those operations aren’t unionized, including a third transformer factory in Ellisville.

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Follow Jeff Amy at https://twitter.com/jeffamy .


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