Bayer Healthcare on Dwight in Berkeley

The 414 union workers at Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals in Berkeley overwhelmingly turned down a proposed new contract on Wednesday.

The vote against the new contract was 264 to 90, according to Donal Mahon, an organizer for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6. The two sides will return to the bargaining table next week, he said.

“We are very disappointed by the vote,” said Sreejit Mohan, Bayer’s director of public policy and communications. “We feel (the proposed contract) was fair. We feel it was competitive. In fact, it was generous.”

The contract included wage increases of 3% to 3.3% a year over four years, plus a signing bonus, according to documents provided by Mohan. (Berkeleyside reported yesterday that the increases went up to 3.4%) An employee now earning $59,904 would earn $67,750 at the end of the contract, according to the documents.

But union officials recommended a no vote because of concern about a provision that would increase health care costs. Bayer wanted employees’ contribution to go from 18% to 20% over the four-year contract. The union contended that increased health care costs would eat away most of the salary increases.

But Bayer disagrees. In a memo sent to employees, it said that increased health care costs would only cost $1,000 over the life of the contract – far less than the salary increases.

The ILWU’s Mahon said that is not exactly accurate. Bayer is asking its union members to pay a certain percentage of the costs, but the company has no control over those costs. The health insurance company determines the price, so there is no way for Bayer to say the total cost will be only $1,000.

“That’s a lot of gall for an industry that went to Congress and lobbied against the health care plan to turn around and ask us to bear those increased costs,” said Mahon.

Bayer spokesman Mohan said the company thinks the union is not looking out for the best interests of its workers.

“What we believe is the ILWU International’s agenda is preventing our employees from getting the best deal,” said Mohan.

He also said that Bayer offered to extend the “recall rights” to the eight employees who were laid off in August 2010 to August 31, 2011, but the union did not agree.

Mahon said that offer was predicated in accepting the terms of the new contract, which he and other union officials knew was probably not going to happen.

Update 7:40 am: Sreejit Mohan, Bayer’s director of public policy and communications, emailed to say Bayer Health Care did not oppose the federal health care plan. (Although the company did spend $2 million in lobbying fees to influence the legislation, according to the Washington Post).

Mohan also disputed the union’s math about the health care costs. Union members would pay $3,872.88 in increased health care costs over the four year contract, far less than the increase they would see in their wages.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...