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Roquette lockout ends in Keokuk, Iowa

KEOKUK – A contentious lockout involving Roquette America and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 48G finally was resolved July 23 with the ratification of a four-year contract.

The nearly year-long ordeal saw three solidarity marches by area unions, several filings of unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, imported workers, and multiple meetings with a mediator.

The pursuit of a collective bargaining agreement got off to a rocky start as Roquette brought 70 new proposals to the table on Sept. 27, 2010. When the union unanimously rejected the contract proposal on Sept. 28, the date the existing contract expired, Roquette locked out 240 members beginning with the afternoon shift.

By this time a year ago, the divide between the two sides seemed to have widened. The lockout took on an international flavor with the start of 2011. On Jan. 6, the AFL-CIO lodged a formal complaint against Roquette Freres for violating the guidelines on multinational enterprises as set out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Little progress was made when Local 48G held its third march on March 26 in downtown Keokuk. The union also held a mass picket outside the plant on May 13

By then, union members already had gone through their available unemployment benefits at the state level, and were collecting checks from the federal government.

Roquette and Local 48G went nearly three months without face-to-face talks. When the two sides finally met at the bargaining table July 18 with new proposals and concessions, things happened fast and furious

The union voted down a Roquette offer on July 22, but ratified it the next day with a few alterations and a little more than 200 members present.

A subcontracting paragraph, which had been a major roadblock in the negotiations, had been reworded and finally accepted. Local 48G agreed to a modified two-tier wage system, where new hires would make $2 less per hour than the previous pay scale. Current employees also accepted a four-year wage freeze.

Union members also were required to pay the same health insurance rates as salaried employees, with single and family plans available.

After another meeting and week of safety training, Local 48G members returned to work Aug. 8 at the Keokuk plant located at 1003 Commercial St.

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