The workers, members of Machinists Union Local 776, voted by a 94 percent margin to reject company proposals that would slash the pension plan for new hires and significantly increase the cost of health insurance for all workers. They would also restrict access of union representatives to the plant, said Machinists regional representative David Hardison.
“We can’t let them move in on our health care,” LaDonna Fritchman, an electrical assembler, told the Militant. “When you’re cramped up in a cockpit all day and you have to twist around and pull the cables through, your knees go and you really need good health insurance.”
According to the Machinists’ website, almost 60 percent of union members at the plant are already on a lower wage tier imposed in a 1993 concession contract. They make about half the wages or less of longtime workers. The pension proposal would widen the divisions.
“We are proposing that new hires would no longer receive a defined benefit pension,” company spokesman Joe Stout told the Militant. “Lots of companies are making this kind of change.
Lockheed expected us “to sell out the new workers,” said David Faith, who was dispatching pickets from the union hall. “But my dad fought for these benefits for me and we continue to fight for future generations. These things are not given, they’re earned in blood on the picket line.”
The company vowed to continue production and has refused to negotiate with the union since the contract vote. “We are dedicated to our customers’ mission: to secure and protect our country and the men and women who fight to defend it,” Greg Karol, Lockheed’s vice president for corporate labor relations, wrote in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram April 14. “Affordability—creating greater efficiencies and lowering costs in everything we do—must be the way we do business.”
“Lockheed has always claimed that we’re one big team,” Rory Miller, an aircraft assembler, told the Militant. “There is no team, it’s them and us. Always has been.”
Miller earns $32 an hour after 25 years in the plant. New hires start out as low as $8.92 an hour and top out at $18.11.
More than 1,500 strikers and their families attended a picnic May 5 at the Local 776 union hall and strike headquarters next to the plant. Workers said that the giant inflatable rat set up in front of the plant was one of the most popular features of the event, with many families posing for pictures with it.
Firefighters and nurses are also part of the union and the strike. Contracts with two more unions, Office and Professional Employees and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, expire May 20.
Teamsters refuse to cross the picket lines, forcing management to pick up loads outside the plant. The strike has received support from many area unions including the Communications Workers, Transport Workers, Flight Attendants, United Food and Commercial Workers, IBEW, Teachers, and the Seafarers union.
The strike headquarters includes a well-stocked kitchen where pickets are served food and beverages 24 hours a day. Other unions “have brought donations, including truckloads of water,” said Faith, pointing to thousands of bottles of water stacked against a wall.
Send strike donations and support letters to District Lodge 776, 7711 Clifford St., Ft. Worth, TX 76108.
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