Studio strike temporarily averted

Union and studio reps came to terms on a revised contract proposal that at least temporarily averts a strike of about 140 studio tour drivers and garage mechanics at Universal Studios Hollywood.

The new proposal, made over the weekend, is expected to go to the membership sometime this week.

The U workers, repped by Teamsters Local 399, have been working on an extended contract since its May 10 expiration.

Members already rejected one proposed contract in ballots counted on Thursday, raising the possibility that they would walk out just as the busy summer tourist season got into full swing. The vote was 49-41 to reject, with 12 ballots ruled invalid.

The proposal included 3% wage increases in each of the first three years and 2% in the final year. In addition, a 1% increase in employees’ individual account plans would be made in each of those years.

Union leaders had endorsed the contract, but some members expressed their frustration that the pact continued to have a so-called “two-tiered wage system,” where different drivers doing the same work are paid at varying wage scales, based on the time they were hired.

In the latest proposal, the studio does not increase the amount of money being offered, but “they have shifted money around in order to avoid a strike,” said Joe Kaplon, attorney for Local 399. “It is designed to make it more palatable to the bargaining unit.”

Exact details were to be made available today.

Kaplon added that in the upcoming balloting, “it will be made clear that if it is not accepted, there will be a strike.”

U has contingency plans in the event of a strike. But other locals, such as those represented by the Intl. Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Studio Utility Employees, also had indicated that they would honor pickets.

The Teamsters last struck in 1988, when contract negotiations broke down and they walked out for nine days. About 60 electricians and maintenance workers — repped by Intl. Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 40 and Studio Utility Employees Local 724 — were fired for refusing to cross picket lines, but they later got amnesty and returned to work.

That strike also was over the “two-tiered” wage scale. After the walkout, the company agreed to pay increases that narrowed the wage gap between drivers but did not eliminate it.

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