FORT WORTH — With the media blocked out and police surrounding the entrance of Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, members of United Aerospace Workers Local 218 debated in seclusion whether to agree to Bell Helicopter's "last and final" contract offer... or call a strike.
"This is the worst proposal I've seen in 28 years of being in this industry," said Bell employee Mike Hawkins, a third generation aircraft employee who has spent eight years working for Bell.
He said the contract offer is a slap in the face, and voted to reject it.
"We have families; we have obligations; we need to have a fair, honest wage," Hawkins said. "It's our labor, our hard work that puts the product out."
Eighty-five percent of union members who voted agreed with that viewpoint; the company's offer was rejected.
Wendell Helms, the UAW International representative said Bell's proposal could lead to pink slips for 200 to 400 workers, decrease pension for current employees, and eliminate the pension for new hires starting June10.
"The company has a proposal on the table that would take away benefits that these and many other unions have bargained for and sacrificed for for over decades," Helms said.
Helms said he would like to go back to the bargaining table with Bell Helicopter, but has not ruled out a strike or other legal options.
Hawkins, on the other hand, is ready to walk the picket line — just as he did in 2009, the last time Bell Helicopter faced a strike.
"Wouldn't be my first strike," Hawkins said. "And I doubt it'll ever be my last."