By Bob Cox McClatchy Newspapers
FORT WORTH, Texas — Seventy days after they voted overwhelmingly to go on strike against Lockheed Martin, a strong majority of Machinists union members approved a revised contract offer on Thursday.
“I’m ready to go back to work,” said Will Montgomery, a material handler on Lockheed’s F-35 production line.
A crowd of more than 2,300 – more resigned than angry – gathered at the Historic Stockyards’ Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth to vote on a proposal that most said was not much better than the one they rejected two months ago.
But with bank accounts drained and bills piling up, most were ready to declare the battle over.
The revised contract passed 1,873 to 447, with 80 percent voting yes.
Pete McKean, a 31-year employee at the west Fort Worth aircraft plant, said he felt like the only recourse was to vote yes because the union could not win a better deal. The Machinists union leadership and negotiators “represented us as best they could.”
McKean and other union members, most of whom work on the production of F-35 and F-16 fighter jets, complained that hourly workers were being forced to make concessions while Lockheed’s top management continued to collect multimillion dollar paychecks, bonuses and pensions.
The new four-year contract will give the nearly 3,700 plus union members pay increases totaling 11 percent and a lump-sum bonus of $2,000. In addition, they will collect two years worth of cost-of-living payments upfront, $1,600.
Workers now employed will get a 14 percent increase in their future pension benefits.
But in a key issue that led to the strike, the union was not able to stop Lockheed from ceasing to provide a traditional defined-benefit pension to newly hired workers.
Instead, it will contribute a percentage of new workers’ base pay to a 401(k) retirement plan administered by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. They will also have Lockheed’s existing 401(k) plan where the company matches a portion of workers’ contributions.
After the vote, Paul Black, president of Machinists District Lodge 776 in Fort Worth, said the contract is the best the union could do. Then he expressed disappointment at not being able to preserve pensions for future workers.
“But we haven’t ended the fight, and we’ll continue to strive for a defined-benefit pension for everybody at Lockheed Martin,” Black insisted. “It will be back on the table in four years.”
Lockheed stopped providing traditional pensions to newly hired salaried and other nonunion employees in 2006.
In a statement released shortly after the vote result was announced, Lockheed said it is pleased the strike will end.
“With the new contract in place, we can continue concentrating on the critical requirements of our customers and our important mission of producing the world’s most advanced, highest quality combat aircraft at the Fort Worth facility,” said a statement by Larry Lawson, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.
“We’re pleased that the entire aeronautics team will be back in place and working together again on our important programs.”
In addition to about 3,300 employees at the Fort Worth plant, the union contract covers about nearly 400 more Lockheed employees working on the F-35 joint strike fighter testing program at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.
Of workers interviewed both before and after the vote relatively few expressed anger or regret about the costly strike.
One who did was Lambo Nguyen. “I think we lost. I supported the strike.”
In retrospect, Nguyen said, the decision “to not accept the first contract was the wrong decision.”
David Vela, a 32-year employee, said he voted for the revised offer but wasn’t angry about the strike despite a less than desired outcome. “It was very worthwhile. We had to keep our union strong.”
Frank Cox, a 31-year veteran aircraft mechanic, said there really was no choice but to vote yes. “I don’t like it, but there’s not much I can do about it.”
There may be some anger in the air and tense situations when the Machinists return to work Monday. Those who participated in the strike throughout will be reunited with fellow unionists who crossed the picket line.
But the 400-plus temporary workers Lockheed hired in recent weeks will be gone by Monday, spokesman Joe Stout said.
The deal approved Thursday was only reached last Saturday night after four days of intense meetings with a federal mediator.
Union officials said Lockheed only grudgingly agreed to preserve an existing point-of-service health care plan along with provisions that would prevent the company from changing health care plans year-to-year.
“We now have language to protect them for four years,” Black said.
After the weeks-long strike and days of tough negotiations, he said union negotiators “had to look inwards and say it was time to end the fight.” The health care changes, he said, were a major victory that would not have occurred without the strike.
Still, some Machinists said they voted against the contract and were willing to fight longer.
“I’d hold out for another 10 weeks. I’m not going to support it,” Holly Musselwhite said.
&Copy;2012 Fort Worth Star-Telegram
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