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Mercury cites progress in talks with union

Mercury Marine officials will continue their contract negotiations with union representatives next week as the company looks for ways to cut costs, including the possible consolidation of its manufacturing operations.

Mercury says it made progress Thursday during an eight-hour session with representatives of the International Association of Machinists and Aviation Workers Local 1947, which represents hourly workers at the company's Fond du Lac, Wis., headquarters.

"In order to formulate a final decision by the end of summer, we needed to make progress at this meeting, and I think both committees worked hard to make that happen," said Mark Schwabero, president of Mercury Marine, in a statement.

The meeting was the fourth between company and union representatives. Mercury says talks remain on track to be completed by Aug. 17. Both sides agreed to meet Tuesday and Wednesday, with additional sessions Thursday and Friday if necessary.

"The important part is that this is not your standard union versus company every-three-year negotiation, because everything is so changed and everything is at stake," said Steve Fleming, communications director for Mercury Marine. "This is a company working with representatives of its employees in an entirely different way. The way we'll do business in the future has changed. It's these both sides coming together to work toward creating a stronger company in this new environment. It's finding solutions that work for both sides - an unusual, but admirable way of approaching it."

Mercury is restructuring its business to emerge from the economic downturn as a stronger company in a different and much smaller market. One possible outcome is the consolidation of operations in either Stillwater, Okla., or Fond du Lac.

"The current market requires us to make some very critical decisions over the next few weeks," Schwabero said. "We are bargaining not for enhancements or over political or philosophical differences; we must restructure our business to compete successfully in a very different market."

Mercury officials said much work remains to be accomplished and there are still several issues to get through. Much of the discussion Thursday focused on operational flexibility, which, along with benefits, formed Mercury's first proposal. Mercury completed its presentation Monday with its wage proposal.

"We have introduced a full and comprehensive proposal on wages, benefits and operational flexibility to try to advance the negotiation process with the union," said Schwabero.

Mercury's complete proposal includes the potential for:

* No wage reductions for our current employees for the next three years and an overall structure for new hires and rehires that is competitive in the Fox Valley.

* Health care and retirement plans that are much like current plans for salaried employees.

* An early retirement incentive proposal that provides an opportunity for employees to retire with their current benefits and potentially opens up new employment opportunities in the community.

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