With only days left in the current labor agreement, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and its Machinists union have agreed to a tentative contract, aiming to avoid a debilitating strike at the massive Fort Worth plant where the F-35 stealth fighter is built.
Negotiators for Lockheed and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 776 agreed to a proposed six-year contract late Wednesday that is longer than the two sides have inked in the past, boosts wages by 16 percent and preserves healthcare coverage and pension benefits.
Union members must still ratify the deal to replace the current contract, which expires on July 10. The machinists union’s leaders are recommending approval at a vote scheduled for Saturday. If the membership does not approve, they will then have to vote on whether or not to hit the picket line next week.
The union represents 2,600 workers at Lockheed’s Fort Worth plant and 300 at Edwards Air Force Base in California and Patuxent River, Md. It is the largest labor group at the Fort Worth complex, where about 14,000 people work.
Paul Black, president of Machinists Lodge 776, said in a statement that the union membership’s top issues were maintaining health insurance choices with cost containment and improved retirement and wage increases.
“We believe we have a tentative agreement that addressed those concerns,” Black said. “Of course, our union is a democracy, and the members will make the final decision this Saturday. We urge each and every member to attend this extremely important meeting and vote.”
On the union’s website, the negotiating committee Black helped lead urged members, in strong terms, to approve the proposed contract.
“With the wages and bonuses, this gives us good wages through the life of the contract,” the website states. “The longer term of the agreement means financial security and locks in our health care and pension for the next six years! Your Negotiating Committee, District Staff and International Staff recommends ACCEPTANCE of this agreement.”
Lockheed said the union leadership’s recommendation “acknowledges the dedicated work” done by the two negotiating committees to bargain in good faith, ultimately providing its union members with “competitive benefits.”
“The company’s offer includes a competitive pay package, the best pension package in the industry for eligible employees, improvements to savings and basic benefits plans, and competitive health care coverage for employees and their families,” Ken Ross, a spokesman for Lockheed, said in a statement released Thursday morning.
Lockheed’s last, best and final offer is posted on the Machinists union website.
Under terms of the proposed contract, which would run from July until April 2022, machinists would receive a lump sum payment, or signing bonus, of $4,000. Union workers would get a 3 percent raise this year, then 2.5 percent raises annually from 2017 to 2020, and another 3 percent in 2021.
All members would get $800-a-year cost-of-living increases, or $4,800 over the life of the contract, according to the document posted on the union website.
While there are many employee classifications and pay scales in the union, the largest category is aircraft assembler, with 730 workers, according to Lockheed officials. The minimum pay earned by an assembler is about $41,000 a year, with someone at the top of the scale earning about $73,000. The average pay for an assembler working now at the plant is $55,000.
The union says it takes almost 20 years for a machinist to reach the top of the pay scale.
Pension benefits, unlike at many major corporations, are not frozen, with veteran employees able to earn $100 per month per year of credited service, representing a $10 increase.
For employees hired after 2012, who under the current contract could only be covered by a 401(k), employees can contribute $65 a week with a 60 percent match from Lockheed. The company has also agreed to make quarterly payments of $43 to employees hired after 2006 for the Basic Benefit Plan.
“To begin, we now have THE industry-leading pension plan. NO company pension plan has $100 per month per year of service. Not only that, the pension is unfrozen for the life of the contract. Plus, we improved the 401(k) for those who don’t have the pension,” the update on the union website states.
Machinists also maintained their choice of three healthcare plans, something that was important to the union membership.
In the last contract, the union fought hard over wages and benefits. It won pay increases totaling 11 percent and a lump sum bonus of $2,000.
Lockheed and union officials began meeting in March with memories of a 2012 strike that lasted about 10 weeks. But the company’s negotiating team has changed since that time and Lockheed officials say they have reached out to its labor force in an attempt to be more collaborative.
Pentagon officials are keeping close tabs on the negotiations and have spoken with Lockheed officials about keeping the F-35 production line rolling. The plant is supposed to deliver more than 50 stealth fighters this year and gear up to build 17 a month by the end of the decade.
Lockheed’s Fort Worth plant is in the midst of a $1.2 billion upgrade and the company plans to start hiring 1,000 additional assembly-line workers sometime next year.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.