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Union asks for lower wages to save jobs

Unionized insulation installers in New Jersey are back at work after a two-day strike to make employers agree to pay them about $1.60 an hour less in increased wages and benefits than employers had offered.

The strike - one of the most unusual of the year - was the latest attempt by union construction workers to fight off nonunion job competition that has, in recent years, caused high unemployment nationally and declining memberships in AFL-CIO building-trades unions.

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A local of the Insulators and Asbestos Workers Union called the settlement for less a significant victory in the walkout against 25 employers. It was ratified by a 207-to-9 vote.

James Grogan, business manager of the local union and president of the New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council, says the walkout was undertaken to preserve union jobs.

''You've got to give the men a lot of credit,'' Mr. Grogan says. ''We are looking toward the future. Nonunion people are taking away our jobs. We have to combat it in this way, by holding down our wages.''

According to Grogan, the action staved off a ''subtle'' management move to ''price union members out of the market,'' as a possible prelude to expanded nonunion operations.

''We felt they were the leaders of a move to throw more money at us than the market would bear,'' Grogan says.

The contractors offered a settlement that called for $1.25 an hour more in wages and benefits in each of two contract years, for a total $2.50 an hour. The local union said that was too much and turned the offer down.

In what union negotiators called an ''unprecedented'' move for a more reasonable settlement, the union offered to sign contracts for a 90 cent-an-hour increase over two years, with a wage reopening and possible wage freeze in 1986.

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Ten contractors settled for that on Sept. 19, and the employer association then agreed on the local's terms on Thursday to end the strike.

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