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That Offer Won't Fly

Thousands of machinists at jet-engine maker Pratt & Whitney rejected a contract offer of a 10 percent pay raise over three years and voted to go on strike.

The walkout, which began after midnight Sunday, was the first at Pratt since 1985.

"We're prepared to continue this process, whatever it takes to come up with a satisfactory contract," said James M. Parent, a spokesman for International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 91, which represents 5,100 employees.

More than 4,000 members showed up for Sunday's vote, with over 84 percent of them choosing to reject the company's latest contract offer. In a second vote, 69 percent approved the strike, Parent said.

Company officials made what they said would be their final contract offer Saturday, after 30 hours of continuous negotiations.

"Obviously we're extremely disappointed," said Mark Sullivan, a spokesman for Pratt. "We made what we believe was an extremely generous offer, in light of the tough economic times today."

Sullivan said Pratt planned to open for business Monday with nearly 2,000 managers and salaried employees reassigned to union workers' jobs.

"We will meet the requirements of our customers," Sullivan said.

In addition to the wage increase, a dlrs 1,000 bonus per worker was offered if the pact was ratified, Sullivan said.

The new contract would have boosted the current average wage of dlrs 23.27 an hour to dlrs 25.88 by the end of the three years.

Pratt & Whitney also offered a 10 percent increase in pensions and improvements in health insurance and the company's pension plan, Sullivan said.

Union members said they were more concerned with job security and wanted assurances from the company that they would not move any more jobs out of Connecticut. They also were seeking language limiting the subcontracting of work.

"It's the right thing to do," said machinist Scott Smith, 51, of Southington. "What they've done with our jobs is disgusting. It's our children we are concerned about."

A strike would be particularly damaging at a time when the aerospace industry has been hurt financially by the economic recession and a downturn in the airline industry following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan said.

In addition, a walkout by workers would harm the company's ability to supply the U.S. Air Force as military operations continue in Afghanistan, he said.

Parent company United Technologies said last month it will cut about 8 percent of the jobs in its Pratt & Whitney jet engine division and 9 percent of positions at aerospace supplier Hamilton Sundstrand.

By Dave Collins © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed