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Air Brake, union extend talks for two weeks

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New York Air Brake management and the Machinists union agreed Sunday to go back to the negotiating table for two weeks. The move, occurring the day after union members rejected a contract offer entailing wage and benefit cuts, puts off the threat of a Tuesday strike.

“I really am optimistic that we’ll reach an agreement at the end of two weeks,” Air Brake President Michael J. Hawthorne said Sunday.

Air Brake and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 761, which represents 150 employees at the Watertown manufacturer, also agreed Sunday not to divulge information from negotiations to the media until an agreement is reached on a new three-year contract, Mr. Hawthorne said. He declined to comment about the union’s opposition to the offer, which the rank and file voted to reject Saturday following a daylong meeting at the Northpole fire station.

Air Brake has proposed to cut union members’ pay by from 59 cents to as much as $4.15 an hour, depending on job classification. The company has proposed an incentive plan based on performance in exchange for those cuts. The average union wage at Air Brake is $20.88, the union reported.

Also opposed by the union were contract provisions ending the union’s pension plan, replacing it with a 401(k); scrapping seniority protections, and granting the company authority to hire nonunion workers. The latter provision would enable the company to hire part-time workers with no health benefits.

Meetings over the next two weeks will extend negotiations that began about six weeks ago. The union on Saturday rejected what Air Brake previously described as its final offer, before its decision Sunday to resume talks.

John B. Carr, regional spokesman for the union, declined to respond Sunday about talks between the two parties.

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