After eight months of negotiations, workers at a large automobile wheel manufacturing company in Rancho Dominguez near Carson announced Tuesday that they had signed their first union contract.
A majority of the more than 1,000 employees of American Racing Equipment Inc. voted in December to join the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers--one of a handful of instances in the United States last year in which a work force of more than 1,000 voted to unionize.
Left uncertain, however, was the question of whether union officials would be able to negotiate a contract. Increasing management resistance to organized labor frequently results in stalemated contract talks after a successful unionization vote.
The fact that the vast majority of American Racing's workers are Mexican immigrants won the attention of national labor leaders. The organizing drive, to which the machinists union assigned half a dozen full-time organizers, was regarded as a test of labor's ability to replenish sagging membership by signing up low-wage immigrant workers.
Other unions had tried unsuccessfully to win contracts at American Racing in the last two decades. The company's workers attracted the attention of machinists union organizers during the summer of 1990, when they staged a wildcat strike to protest what they said were unsafe working conditions and uncompensated demands for faster production. In December, workers voted 655 to 403 in favor of union representation.
In February, a committee of workers began negotiating with American Racing's management. Last week--after more than 45 meetings--the two sides reached an agreement. Workers ratified the contract Sunday.
The contract calls for workers, who make $7.80 an hour, to receive 12% wage increases through 1993. The contract also calls for improved medical benefits, including dental and vision care and smaller payments by workers. Management retains the right to subcontract work to non-union companies--a clause that unions try to keep out of contracts.
"It took time, but in the end we had a first agreement we could be very proud of," said Thomas Hurd, the chief union negotiator. "We feel from checking around that companies that hire predominantly Latinos have working conditions that are not near those of primarily Anglo companies."