Bell Helicopter union votes to ratify new contract

Posted Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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After months of wrangling over overtime and healthcare benefits, members of United Auto Workers Local 218 have ratified a new five-year contract with Bell Helicopter.

The contract, which takes effect immediately, was approved by 93 percent of members who voted on Sunday morning at the University of Texas at Arlington’s Texas Hall. It covers more than 2,500 machinists, packers and forklift operators at the manufacturer.

Details of the agreement were not made public. But some workers said the contract does not include a controversial change to holiday overtime that the union had criticized. And though it does include some raises for employees and increases to pensions for longtime workers, the contract also calls for new employees to receive a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan instead of a traditional pension.

Members will also receive a bonus for approving the contract.

In a prepared statement, Bell said, “The stability this five-year contract provides will benefit our employees and our customers as we continue to transform the way we do business at Bell Helicopter.”

The company said the new contract includes modifications to healthcare benefits and changes to its overtime policy. But it did not provide specifics.

Union members have been working without a contract since June, when members rejected the company’s “final” offer. Workers rejected a second proposal before staging a one-day walkout at the company’s east Fort Worth complex on Sept. 5.

Throughout negotiations, Bell President and CEO John Garrison said the company bargained “in good faith and presented a highly competitive offer” to the UAW-represented employees.

“The company has presented a world-class offer that would continue our tradition of providing employees represented by UAW Local 218 with industry-leading wages, yearly increases and a competitive benefits package for you and your families,” Garrison said earlier.

According to an early contract proposal, Bell union workers, on average, earn base rates of more than $66,518 a year.

Bell employs nearly 7,000 people in Tarrant County. Last month, the company laid off 290 hourly and salaried workers, plus 85 contract employees, citing reductions in defense spending.

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard

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