FORT WORTH — Bell Helicopter and United Auto Workers Local 218 have reached tentative agreement on about 10 issues in contract negotiations but remain apart on employee pensions, overtime and healthcare, the two sides said.The company withdrew an unpopular proposal that would have consolidated dozens of job classifications, from painters to forklift operators. Union officials feared that would trigger dozens of layoffs.Bell’s new proposal was created “in a good-faith effort to reach a contract settlement as soon as possible,” company spokesman Bill Schroeder said. He urged the union’s membership to vote on it.But union officials remain unhappy with the company’s refusal to bargain on pensions, overtime and healthcare. The union website has declared such a stance an effort to demolish “rights and benefits hard won over a period of 60 years of negotiations.” The company’s proposals include a reduction in overtime pay, an increase in health premiums for workers and a shift from a traditional pension to a defined-contribution plan. 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 a company proposal. In the latest talks, the union withdrew nine demands while eight of its proposals remain open, union officials say. The company withdrew 54 proposals in its latest offer, Schroeder said.The parties met Aug. 1, Schroeder said, and no date has been set to continue talks.Union officials say bargaining with the company has been a challenge. Hours before the two sides were expected to meet Aug. 1, the company emailed the union a modified proposal.“Even though the company’s documents were very confusing, the union met its commitment and met with the company to bargain,” union leaders wrote on the union website.The union alleges that the company is trying to “twist the facts” on its proposals. “It is ironic that the company attempts to take credit for concessions by withdrawing their own proposals,” the website said.Schroeder said Bell has some of the “most highly compensated employees in the aviation and defense industry.” According to the proposed contract, the Bell union workers, on average, earn base rates of more than $66,518 a year.Workers have disputed the value of pay increases in the company’s June 9 proposal. While Bell said its proposed contract would provide increases of 9 percent over three years, workers said many veteran employees would receive no raise in the first year and 2 percent in each of the next two.Company officials have not responded to a request for clarification on the wage increases.
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard