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   Vol. 70/No. 47           December 11, 2006  
 
 
Machinists strike Arizona missile plant
 
BY MICHAEL ORTEGA
AND NAOMI CRAINE
 
TUCSON, Arizona, November 25—Morale is high on the picket lines here at a Raytheon missile plant where more than 1,400 workers have been on strike since their contract expired November 5. The workers, organized by International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local Lodge 933, are fighting the company’s attempt to maintain a wage cap for current employees, eliminate pension plans for new hires, and significantly raise the cost of workers’ health-care coverage.

“It’s the medical coverage,” said Larry Budd, a forklift operator who has worked at the plant since 1986, explaining why he and others are determined to stand up and fight. Strikers say they are especially angry about the takeback demands because the union accepted concessions in the previous contract and Raytheon is now asking for more while enjoying increased profits.

Raytheon Missile Systems is the largest private employer in southern Arizona, with 11,000 employees at its Tucson facilities. Some 1,900 are production workers, 1,400 of them unionized. Ten days before the strike, the defense contractor, which makes Tomahawk and air-to-air missiles, announced a third-quarter profit increase of 41 percent.

The company’s contract proposal would nearly double workers’ weekly medical premiums over the next three years while leaving the door open for increases in co-payments, deductibles, annual maximums, and other costs.

IAM Local 933 notes in an informational leaflet that 25 percent of workers at the Raytheon plant haven’t had a raise in years, and many won’t get one under the proposed contract because of job classification wage caps. Average hourly earnings of union members range between $10 and $23.

Striker Chris Korchmaros said the company was trying to scrap pensions for future employees and replace them with a 401(k) plan.

The strikers have received solidarity from other unions, including the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 and an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local. More than 500 strikers and supporters turned out for a rally and barbecue outside the main plant November 22.

“Teamsters from UPS have been among the unions refusing to cross the picket line,” said striking warehouse worker Oscar Rodríguez.

IAM spokesperson Carmen Fotheringham noted in a phone interview that Teamsters who drive public buses have also refused to cross the line, dropping off scabs by the pickets rather than on company property.

Unionists remarked that some of the engineers have been sympathetic to their fight. “They’ve got these guys working 10 hours a day, 7 days a week and they’re not happy that they’re breaking their knuckles,” said Patrick Ongley, one of the strikers.

“Keep up the good work. A lot of engineers are depending on you too,” an engineer who was a former production worker told the pickets as he dropped off a box of elk meat at the line today.

Fotheringham said that 160 strikers have crossed the line.

Bobbi Hawkins, a custodian with two months on the job, said she had joined the union in her first week and is striking despite company threats to fire her. “If you don’t have a strong union, you never get anywhere,” she said.

David ArgŁello contributed to this article.
 
 
Related articles:
Texas janitors win their first union pact
After walkout, meatpackers press fight against firings
Miners bring solidarity to Alabama Goodyear picket
On the Picket Line  
 
 
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