'Anger is building' as Lockheed Martin workers strike




Posted on April 22, 2012 at 5:11 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 24 at 9:59 PM

FORT WORTH — Some striking Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft workers in North Texas have started the week on the picket line.

Machinists at Fort Worth's Lockheed Martin defense plant voted overwhelmingly Sunday to strike instead of approving a contract they said was one of the worst offers they had ever seen.

The strike by Machinists Local 776 in Fort Worth began at midnight. Leaders of the union, representing 3,600 of Lockheed Martin's 14,000 workers, say the contract would have affected a pension plan, health costs and new hires. The company has said the agreement was fair.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Joe Stout says the plant remains open and no problems have been reported. He says some employees have been assigned alternate job duties to take over for the striking workers.

There was a flurry of activity inside the union hall just across the street from Lockheed Martin's main gate in Fort Worth Sunday night. Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers assembled hundreds of picket signs, and at Lodge 776, something was building.

"Anger is building," said union president Paul Black. "And now anger is turning into action. Our members say we will be in this fight one day longer than what [Lockheed Martin] can stand for us to be out here."

About 2,700 members of his 3,600-person union voted during a special meeting at Cowtown Coliseum Sunday afternoon; 94 percent rejected Lockheed Martin's contract offer and 93 percent voted to strike.

"When you think of how much the higher echelon of people make around there, it's like, 'God, throw us a bone,'" said aircraft assembler and union member James Morrissy.

The contract offered, among other things, a 3 percent raise for in each of the next three years, and a $3,000 signing bonus.

But it required higher insurance premiums and offered what union members say is no defined pension plan for new hires.

The pension offer was the main point of contention, Black said.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Joe Stout said it is the same plan given to the company's salaried employees since 2006. He said the company was disappointed by the strike vote.

Stout said non-union certified employees will be moved to cover jobs left empty by striking workers. He said Lockheed Martin should keep up with customer demand and meet deadlines for the "near-term future."

"It would not be right to say everything will be business as usual, because it won't be," Stout said.

Black said he was proud of members for voting to strike over the pension offering. He said it is what former members would have done.

"They fought for us, so it is our duty to fight for generations to come after us," the union president said. "We will see where it all goes."

There were no talks scheduled between the two sides.

This will be the fourth time that machinists have gone on strike. They last hit the picket line in 2003. The union faced similar issues then, seeking better wages and relief from high insurance costs.

Lockheed Martin's Aeronautic headquarters is in Fort Worth. It bought the rights to the F-16 assembly plant from General Dynamics in the early 1990s.

The Fort Worth factory also makes the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a project that is years past due and over budget.

The Associated Press contributed to this report