Briggs & Stratton Corp. workers will lose ground financially under a newly approved labor contract despite a signing bonus and 2% annual raises for the next three years, the head of the union representing the employees said Friday.
A company spokeswoman, however, called approval of the contract "a win-win for everyone."
Members of United Steelworkers Local 2-232 on Thursday voted 211-77 to accept the three-year pact.
"To the public, it may appear that we're getting a raise, but in reality, we're not," said Jesse Edwards, president of Local 2-232.
Employees' increased health insurance costs under the contract more than offset the boost in pay and the one-time, $500-a-person signing bonus, he said.
"We feel that it was a bad contract, but it gives the members a chance to work a little longer and maybe come back after the three years and try to improve the contract," Edwards said.
He said the union leadership made no recommendation to members on the pact. It covers about 350 employees at Briggs' plant in Wauwatosa, where the firm also has its headquarters.
Union-represented workers there average about $16 an hour, Edwards said.
Under the new contract, he said, the amount employees must pay annually in health insurance deductibles before coverage kicks in will rise by $1,200 for a single person and by $1,800 for a family.
He said the contract allows the company to bring in temporary workers to supplement production in the generator division at Wauwatosa as it sees fit.
Major Wisconsin manufacturers increasingly are seeking to use lower-paid temporary, or casual, labor, which gives management production flexibility and cost savings.
Laura Timm, director of corporate communications for Briggs, said by e-mail that the company recently added jobs at Wauwatosa with the introduction of home-generator manufacturing. The new contract reflects the seasonal production of the generators, she said.
Virtually all of Briggs' U.S. employees already have seen or will see the same changes in health insurance plans that the contract with the Steelworkers incorporates, Timm said.
Edwards also said Friday that Briggs plans to move production of engine coils out of Wauwatosa in 2012. The work will go to China and the Dominican Republic, he said. About 20 to 25 Wauwatosa employees now do the coil work, Edwards said.
Timm said Briggs has had coils made in the Dominican Republic for "a very long time."
"We continue to evaluate the best possible source for coils both domestically and internationally," she said.