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Lockheed Martin union prepares to take strike vote

Lockheed Martin and the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers are negotiating a new contract at a crucial time for the company. Lockheed is ramping up production of the F-35.
Lockheed Martin and the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers are negotiating a new contract at a crucial time for the company. Lockheed is ramping up production of the F-35. Star-Telegram archives

With work underway to significantly boost production of the F-35 fighter jet in west Fort Worth, Lockheed Martin’s machinists union will gather this weekend to consider giving their leadership the power to call a strike against the aeronautics giant.

The International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 776 will gather in the Will Rogers auditorium Saturday morning to take the strike authorization vote. The union represents about 2,900 workers, including 2,600 at its Fort Worth complex, Lockheed said.

Lockheed’s current contract with the union is set to expire July 10, so Saturday’s vote is the first step toward walking out if a new agreement cannot be hammered out. The union has already scheduled a vote on the last contract offer from Lockheed for July 9. A strike authorization vote is designed to put pressure on the company.

For some union members, the wounds have barely healed from their time on the picket line in 2012, when workers walked out for 10 weeks.

Union members ultimately got pay increases totaling 11 percent and a lump-sum bonus of $2,000. But they were unable to stop Lockheed from ending a traditional defined-benefit pension for new hires and shifting instead a 401(k) plan.

What happens here will set the tone for the future of negotiations in aerospace.

Paul Black, president of IAMA District Lodge 776

Paul Black, District Lodge 776 president and chief spokesman, did not return repeated phone calls from the Star-Telegram seeking comment. But on the union’s website he is quoted as saying the importance of these talks is “profound” not only for Lockheed in Fort Worth, but elsewhere.

“What happens here will set the tone for the future of negotiations in aerospace. We intend to negotiate an agreement that protects those things that are critical to the well being of our members and their families,” Black said. “Good wages. Quality healthcare choices, at an affordable price, and financial security when they retire.”

Lockheed officials are reluctant to talk about the current contract negotiations. In a statement released by company spokesman Ken Ross, Lockheed states “our objective is to secure an agreement that meets the needs of the members and the business now and for the future.”

The contract talks are coming to a head at a crucial time for Lockheed Martin, which is expanding the Fort Worth plant to handle full-rate production of the F-35 Lightning II. After years of technical issues and development, the next-generation stealth fighter is moving into final testing and emerging as a major growth vehicle for the Maryland-based corporation.

The Fort Worth plant is scheduled to build about 50 airplanes this year, with production expected to almost double by 2018. By the end of the decade, they hope to produce up to 17 stealth fighters a month.

New contract, some old issues

Lockheed and union officials began meeting in March. The contract covers employees at Edwards Air Force Base in California and at Patuxent River in Maryland, too.

We want everybody to be happy. But this company is making lots of money and we’re the ones that are making that money.

Mark Stewart, union negotiating committee member

The union planned to submit its first economic proposal Tuesday, according to a negotiations update posted on the union’s website earlier this week. The two sides are meeting at the Courtyard hotel in Fort Worth on University Drive.

Besides wages, healthcare and pension benefits, possible changes in work schedules and seniority issues are on the negotiating table related to the production increase, according to the union update and a Lockheed employee who is not authorized to talk to the media about the contract talks.

Profits and buyouts

At about the same time contract talks began in earnest, Lockheed announced it was looking to trim about 1,000 white-collar positions in the aeronautics division through a voluntary buyout program, with two-thirds of the positions being eliminated in Fort Worth. The company, which got the number they were seeking, said the cuts were needed to help Lockheed remain “competitive in the future marketplace.”

Officials said the job cuts would not affect F-35 production, which is expected to need as many as 1,000 additional assembly line workers. Hiring for those jobs has not yet begun.

Lockheed’s recent profit reports have been a mixed bag, with the company reporting better-than-expected first-quarter results after knocking down its earnings by $64 million due to the costs of buying out its employees. Profits in the aeronautics division increased by 13 percent to $420 million.

“We want a good contract,” said Mark Stewart, a union negotiating committee member, on a video posted on the union’s website. “We want everybody to be happy. But this company is making lots of money and we’re the ones that are making that money.”

This report contains material from Bloomberg News and the Star-Telegram archives.

Max B. Baker: 817-390-7714, @MaxbakerBB

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