FORT WORTH — Nearly two months after union workers rejected a final contract offer from Bell Helicopter, the two sides plan to restart negotiations this week.Bell Helicopter and United Auto Workers Local 218 are scheduled to meet Thursday to work on a new labor agreement, a union official said last week. More than 2,500 Bell machinists, forklift operators and other hourly employees have worked under an expired contract since June 9, when members overwhelmingly rejected the company proposal. The sides held brief meetings after the contract was rejected but have made no progress toward a new deal, the official said.Union leaders say the company is trying to demolish “rights and benefits hard won over a period of 60 years of negotiations.” The union’s website says that in some cases, the company has refused to bargain with the UAW on key issues such as overtime, healthcare, cost of living and pension benefits.Bell spokesman Bill Schroeder said Thursday that the company has been available to meet and negotiate with the union “every day since the contract expired.”The company is “open to hearing the union’s proposals on any and all elements of the collective bargaining agreement,” Schroeder said. “To date, the union has provided no significant counteroffers to our last proposal.”Schroeder said Bell has some of the “most highly compensated employees in the aviation and defense industry.” According to the contract proposal, the Bell union workers on average earn base rates of more than $66,518 a year.Union workers have disputed the value of pay increases in the June 9 proposal and say other takeaways would reduce benefits and threaten jobs.While Bell said its proposed contract would provide pay increases of 9 percent over three years, workers said many veteran employees would receive far less: no raise in the first year and 2 percent in each of the next two years.Some workers said the proposal included increased healthcare costs and changes in job classifications that would outweigh the wage increase and could lead to layoffs.Bell has said it wishes to negotiate with the UAW in good faith. It has called its proposal “a highly competitive, world-class offer that provides industry-leading compensation” and estimated the average value of increased compensation at $15,682.The union’s website has become more critical of the company in recent weeks. In a posting Tuesday, it stated that the company said repeatedly that “it didn’t want to fight.” The union’s response was: “Your intentions will be reflected in your proposals.”A sharp increase in healthcare premiums and a reduction in holiday pay were among factors that led union workers to reject the offer, several workers said.In recent weeks, company officials did not respond to a request for clarification on the proposed wage increases and to a request for comment on whether reduced job classifications might cause layoffs.
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard