Aircraft manufacturing workers at Lockheed Martin overwhelmingly rejected the company's final contract offer Sunday and voted to go on strike.Machinists' union members voted by greater than 9-to-1 margins in separate ballots to both reject Lockheed's final contract proposal and to strike.Workers interviewed after the strike repeatedly cited their opposition to company proposals that would eliminate a defined benefit pension plan for new hires and reduce the number of health care plan options to just one HMO and a plan that features higher employee deductibles and co-payments.Nick Hight, an 8-year Lockheed employee, said he was willing to strike for weeks if necessary over the pension issue. "No pension for new hires, that's not good. What if my granddaughter wanted to work here.""They keep taking things away from us," said Kim Nguyen, an aircraft assembler who has worked 15 years at the Lockheed plant. "They've gotten too greedy. We've got to fight for something."The strike by members of Machinists Local 776 is set to begin at 12:01 a.m. Monday. Union members said they are prepared for a long walkout if necessary.The union represents about 3,600 workers at the west Fort Worth Lockheed plant that do most of the aircraft assembly and manufacturing work on the F-35 and F-16 fighter jets or service the machines and facilities.Paul Black, president of Machinists Lodge 776 in Fort Worth, said the vote against the contract proposal was stronger than he had dared to hope for."I'm very proud of my membership. They stood against the company and its attempt to take away good quality health care. And they stood against taking away the pension."Lockheed spokesman Joe Stout defended the company's proposal."We believe our offer included terms that constituted a fair and equitable contract for the IAM members, including wage increases of 3 percent annually in each of the three years, a $3,000 signing bonus, an annual cost of living supplement of $800, increased retirement income for current employees, and various other improvements," Stout said."We're disappointed that the IAM members rejected the company's last, best and final offer and voted to strike. Our operations will remain open and we will implement our contingency plan while focusing on meeting our commitments to our customers."It's not clear what effect a strike would have on Lockheed's production, especially on the troubled F-35 program.The next generation combat aircraft has been under increased Pentagon and congressional scrutiny because of years of delays in development, testing and production and huge cost increases.Lockheed sent letters to key government program managers and contracting officers on Thursday informing them of the possibility of a work stoppage, Stout said.
Bob Cox, 817-390-7723; Twitter, @bobcoxict