Mercury Marine Union Approves Contract

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) -- The union at an eastern Wisconsin boat engine maker approved a sweeping package of wage and benefit concessions Friday that the company said it needed to keep 850 manufacturing jobs from moving to Oklahoma.

Russ Krings, district representative for International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 1947, at Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac announced the results following two days of secret ballots. The exact vote was not disclosed.

It was the third attempt at resolving the contentious concessions -- the union rejected them nearly two weeks ago and a second vote was stopped last weekend -- as city leaders called the decision a referendum on Fond du Lac's economic future.

Debbie Waterworth, 53, "plugged my nose" and voted yes before the long Labor Day weekend because she wanted to keep the job she's had for 16 years, she said Friday.

"The economy is bad and we all got to take cuts," she said. "We got to give a little."

Opponents called the deal unfair with no guarantees that jobs won't be shipped elsewhere anyway.

Mercury Marine President Mark Schwabero said in a statement after the vote that the company will begin consolidating work in Fond du Lac this year, including moving work from a nonunion plant in Stillwater, Okla., within two years.

The revamped agreement repeals 2 percent pay raises in each of the last two years of the contract, which was to expire in 2012, freezing wages for seven years. It boosts health care costs, changes work rules and cuts pay 30 percent for new hires and laid-off union members called back, the company and union said.

Mercury Marine, the world's largest manufacturer of boat and recreational marine engines, said it has to eliminate production capacity given the economic downturn and a shrinking market for recreational boats and motors.

Without the concessions, the company said it would have shifted work to Stillwater. That plant has 380 manufacturing jobs.

Steve Kirchhoff, 50, has worked at the Fond du Lac plant for 16 years and anguished over his vote Friday, refusing to divulge it because he's a union representative. He called the vote a choice between deciding to amputate your legs or behead yourself.

"Cut your legs off, you got a chance to live," he said. "Cut your head off, you're dead."

The only winner was the company, he said. "They extorted Stillwater," he said. "They extorted Fond du Lac. They extorted us."

Oklahoma state Rep. Cory Williams, who represents Stillwater, predicted Mercury Marine would close its operation there in the next 18 to 36 months. Company officials did not give any figures regarding job consolidations in Stillwater.

"We thought we had this wrapped up last week ... only to have the rug yanked out from under us," Williams said. "Stillwater was held pretty much hostage. I don't appreciate it."

The union on Aug. 23 overwhelmingly rejected what Mercury Marine called its best and final offer to save the jobs in Fond du Lac, which is 60 miles north of Milwaukee. The company said the offer expired at midnight last Saturday before a second vote was finished.

With the help of state and local officials, the two sides worked out details for the vote that wrapped up Friday.

The company said the deal was the same one rejected Aug. 23.

Mercury Marine also has manufacturing operations in Tulsa, Okla., as well as South Carolina, Florida, Mexico, Japan, United Kingdom, Belgium and China. It is a subsidiary of Lake Forest, Ill.-based Brunswick Corp.

Associated Press Writer Rochelle Hines in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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