Updated: April 23, 2012 5:52 AM
FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - In an overwhelming vote, thousands of aircraft assembly and manufacturing workers rejected Lockheed Martin's contract offer and agreed to go on strike.
It was Lockheed's best and final contract proposal.
Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, or IAM, opposed the company's proposal that offered only two healthcare choices, an HMO and the Lockheed Martin Healthworks plan, which workers said had high deductibles. With tightening defense budgets, Lockheed Martin spokesman Joe Stout said the company has been feeling pressure to cut costs. As part of that, pension plans for new hires would be cut.
"The company is the number one defense contract in the world. They make a lot of money. They certainly don't mind giving big bonuses to those guys at the top, and they need to share some of that with the guys that are out here doing the work on the floor," said Paul Black, president of the Machinists Union.
Stout said the company was disappointed with the Machinists Union's decision to strike.
"We believe our offer included terms that constituted a fair and equitable contract for the IAM members, including wage increases of three percent annually in each of the three years, a $3,000 signing bonus, an annual cost of living supplement of $800, increased retirement income for current employees, and various other improvements," Stout said in a written statement.
"This is the best thing we could have done," said Tonya Phillips, who has worked at Lockheed Martin for 17 years. "Everybody wants to work, we just want to be treated equally and fair."
The Machinists Union District Lodge 776 began picketing at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning.
The union represents 3,600 employees, including machinists, painters, aircraft mechanics, service mechanics, welders, electricians and more. The Lockheed Martin plant in west Fort Worth produces F-16 and F-35 fighter planes. The company does not expect an immediate impact on aircraft production and has been preparing for a strike.
"We've been identifying people, salaried employees from throughout our workforce, that has previous experience working in the factory or working on aircraft, so we will have employees available to perform jobs as they can," Stout said.
Employees are prepared for a long-term strike if that's what it takes to get the company's attention.
"I am proud of my membership," said Black. "They have stood against this company and it's attempt to take away good quality healthcare and also they are not going to steal pensions away from new hires."
The last time the Machinists Union went on strike was in 2003. The union has gone on strike four times since 1980. The longest strike lasted 3 weeks.
There has been no contact between parties so no word yet on when negotiations will begin again.
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