Lockheed Martin’s machinists union members made it clear Saturday that they support a strike against the aeronautic giant if a contract agreement can’t be reached in the next few weeks that adequately boosts their wages while also protecting healthcare and pension benefits.
The International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 776, which represents about 2,600 workers at the Lockheed plant west of Fort Worth, met for about an hour at the Will Rogers auditorium before voting 1,696 to 32 to approve a strike.
Lockheed’s four-year contract with the union expires July 10, and the union has set July 9 vote for its membership to consider the company’s last, best and final offer. If that deal falls short, union members will decide whether to walk a picket line.
“I’m ready to strike. They are taking everything away from us,” said David Darlock, who installs plumbing in the F-35’s wings. “They are disrespecting us.”
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In a proposal made to Lockheed last week, union leaders asked for a longer contract — from July 2016 to April 2021 — that increases pay 38 percent. The machinists also want $7,500 in cost-of-living adjustments and a $5,000 signing bonus, among other things.
What we told the company, with the kind of things they have on the table right now. ... If they expect this membership to buy into those, this may not be enough money to buy it,
Paul Black, District Lodge 776 president and chief spokesman
While one union member said the wage offer, the first one to be made, will likely be whittled down during negotiations, the union’s local leader said it may not be enough given the other things Lockheed’s management is seeking, including possible shift changes.
“What we told the company, with the kind of things they have on the table right now ... if they expect this membership to buy into those, this may not be enough money to buy it,” said Paul Black, District Lodge 776 president and chief spokesman.
Kenneth Ross, a Lockheed spokesman, said that the strike authorization vote is a matter of procedure and not unexpected and that the company will keep talking in good faith in the coming weeks.
“Our negotiations are continuing with both sides working together to craft a fair and competitive contract that supports the needs of our employees and business,” Ross said. “The discussions have been sincere, with both teams actively engaged in sharing thoughts and ideas and a united interest in delivering quality fighters to those who will fly them into harm’s way.
“We remain committed to negotiating in good faith to achieve an agreement by contract expiration date of July 10,” he said.
In 2012 the union walked out for about 10 weeks, refusing to return to the long assembly line where the F-16, and now the futuristic F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter, is built. In the last contract the union won pay increases totaling 11 percent and a lump-sum bonus of $2,000.
Our negotiations are continuing with both sides working together to craft a fair and competitive contract that supports the needs of our employees and business, Kenneth Ross,
The union was, however, unable to stop Lockheed from ending a traditional defined-benefit pension for new hires and shifting instead to a 401(k) plan.
The dogfight over the new contract comes at a critical time for Lockheed, which is spending $1.2 billion to upgrade the Fort Worth complex to handle full-rate production of the F-35. After years of delays caused by technical issues, the next-generation fighter is moving into final testing and emerging as a major growth vehicle for the Maryland-based corporation.
The plant is scheduled to build about 50 airplanes this year, with production expected to almost double by 2018. By the end of the decade, it hopes to produce up to 17 stealth fighters a month. Lockheed plans to hire up to 1,000 additional assembly line workers.
Lockheed and union officials began meeting in March. The contract also covers 300 employees at Edwards Air Force Base in California and at Patuxent River in Maryland.
Healthcare, new shifts
Maintaining healthcare coverage actually ranked a little higher in member’s concerns than wages, Black said. In the last contract, the membership lost some of its options; in this one they want to maintain, and hopefully improve, what they have left, Black said.
In the economic proposal made to Lockheed last week and posted on the union’s website, the union wants to halve some of the co-pays on prescription drugs under the Aetna HMO policy, for example. It also wants the company to pay slightly more for the point-of-service care, if that is the healthcare plan the employee selects.
“The membership said they want to maintain healthcare choices, maintain the costs ... improve coverage, that is what the committee was trying to do when it inserted some caps,” Black said.
Under pension benefits, the union wants Lockheed to increase the amount it matches on the hourly employee basic savings plan and it wants 80 percent of each dollar of the matched contribution to be made in cash, according to the proposal posted on the website.
While Lockheed has yet to make any firm proposals on work hours, there have been discussions about having machinists, who primarily work eight-hour Monday-through-Friday, to possibly move to a work schedule where they get every other Friday off.
Known as a 9/80 schedule, employees work nine days and earn 80 hours over two weeks by working nine-hour days the first four days of the first week and eight hours on Friday. The second week, they work four-nine hour days and get Friday off.
About 11,000 of the plant’s 14,000 employees already work the 9/80 schedule, Ross said.
There also has been some discussion of mandatory overtime. Working extra is currently optional.
“They’ve got an ambitious, noneconomic proposal out there,” Black said.
Members speak out
Aircraft assembly technician Ken Clare stood outside the auditorium greeting his fellow workers as they filed in to vote. Many of them, whom he considers to be family, were wearing specially made T-shirts with an F-35 on them and the slogan “Strike Force. The Force Awakens.”
But even with that, the 14-year Lockheed veteran said he is taking a wait-and-see attitude about the contract talks. He’s not crazy about going out on strike, but he did last time because it was something “we needed to do.”
“I don’t feel one way or the other until I see what they have to offer on paper,” Clare said. “The feeling I’m getting is that we’ll do what we need to do to get a fair and equitable contract.”
Johnny Harrell, a material handler who has worked at the plant for 35 years and is near retirement, said he hopes this vote will pressure Lockheed to “negotiate in good faith.”
Mark Rodela, who has worked at the plant for 28 years, was not happy about the idea of possibly changing work shifts and being forced to work overtime.
The feeling I’m getting is that we’ll do what we need to do to get a fair and equitable contract,
Ken Clare, an aircraft assembly electrician
“It is generically unfair and uncalled for,” Rodela said. “There is no need to change what’s worked for a long time.”
In an earlier interview, Dale Kelly, director of labor relations for aeronautics and chief spokeswoman for Lockheed’s negotiating team, said that the two side, not surprisingly, are far apart. But she was hopeful that they could reach a positive conclusion.
“Ultimately, we’re going to have to get down to what is the most critical elements for both the company and the union and see if we can make those circles overlap,” she said. “It is give and take.”
After the meeting, Black, the union president, admitted that going out on strike is tough.
“Nobody benefits from a strike. Everyone loses in a strike,” he said.