“Prepared to endure for the duration,” Lockheed workers strike to protect pension and health care

Members of IAM Local 776 at Lockheed-Martin in Fort Worth on Monday walked off the job after rejecting a company contract proposal that would eliminate pensions for new hires and increase health care costs for all workers. During a vote on Sunday, 93 percent of those voting rejected the company’s final offer and authorized a strike. Most Local 776 members work at Lockheed-Martin’s Fort Worth airplane assembly plant that makes F-16 and F-35 fighters for the Air Force.

Local 776 President Paul Black told WFAA-TV that “anger (among the workers) is building, and now that anger is turning to action.”

Workers are angry that the company’s plan to eliminate pension for new hires will lead to a freeze and/or elimination of everyone’s pension. The union’s Negotiating Committee told members, “Lockheed has made no bones of the fact that they do not want be providing pensions to employees.”

The committee warned that if the company no longer makes pension contributions for new hires, there will come a point when the pension plan will no longer be able to sustain current benefits. At that point, the company will likely freeze the plan and then try to dump it.

“We know they’ll do it, because we’ve seen what Lockheed does,” the committee said and pointed to actions taken by United Space Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed.

“Two contracts ago, they took the pension from new hires. The next contract, they froze the pension for everyone. They haven’t sold the plan off – yet. But you can bet they will as soon as they find a buyer!”

Workers are also angry about the increased health care costs that the company wants them to pay to cover their families. According to the union, the company’s proposal would increase worker contributions for family health care coverage by $2,800 over the three-year term of the contract. About 74 percent of the workers cover their families.

The company also proposes to introduce a high-deductible, so-called “customer driven” health care plan, LM Healthworks, that workers could sign up for instead of the current comprehensive health care plan.

In a flyer to members, the union warned that high deductible plans like LM Healthworks are “a scam” that are good only if you never use it. The union pointed to a Consumers Union assessment of these so-called consumer driven plans as misnamed because they “increase deductibles and shift costs to sicker employees.”

Another flyer says that the company has shifted its management employees and other non-union employees to LM Healthworks and would like to put all employees in the plan eventually. There’s only one problem with this plan says the flyer, “We have a contract and we don’t have to agree to it. IAM 776 members are telling the Negotiating Committee that if it takes a strike to explain to Lockheed Martin that we won’t accept snake-oil insurance, so be it.”

That’s what the workers did, and it looks like they are prepared for a long strike. Well before the negotiations began, union leadership began warning workers to prepare for a strike. One informational flyer told workers what to expect: “There is a class war going on today, and now the war is coming to us. It’s important to start saving now so we can protect what our parents and grandparents fought so hard to get.”

During the negotiations, the union blunted company efforts to define the issues of negotiations by keeping members well informed and defining the issues themselves. In addition to issuing flyers, it created a website page where members could get the latest news about the negotiations.

The union also organized committees to handle the logistics of the strike and to keep members and the public informed. In addition to a Strike Committee, the union set up committees to manage communication, community service, a film crew, and the kitchen.

Black told Reuters, “These are pretty big issues. It may take more than just a two or three-week strike. We’re prepared to endure for the duration.”

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