Machinists-union members voted overwhelmingly Sunday to ratify a new three-year contract with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics that will raise wages, boost pensions and limit increases in employee contributions to medical insurance premiums, according to the Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, TX.
By a more than 4-1 margin, workers who build fighter jets at Lockheed's west Fort Worth plant approved a contract that union leaders and some members said was among the best ever negotiated with the company.
"I've been here 31 years, and this is the best contract I've ever seen," said David Farr. "We might could have gotten a little more, but it wouldn't have been worth a strike."
Only in recent days, union leaders said, did Lockheed negotiators agree to modify contract demands that could have led to a potentially long and costly strike.
"Two weeks ago, I was predicting we were going to walk," said Pat Lane, directing business representative of District Lodge 776 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers and leader of the union negotiating team.
"We had some big issues [unresolved]. The company was insisting on a 9-80 workweek and the employees were adamantly opposed to it." Under the 9-80 work schedule, employees work 80 hours in nine days every two weeks.
Workers said they staged mass demonstrations in the plant during work breaks last week to show their support for the union's negotiating strategy.
In the end, Lockheed agreed to leave unchanged the basic five-day, 40-hour work schedule for its aircraft assembly workers and other skilled trades represented by the union. Employees will continue to receive overtime pay after eight hours daily and 40 hours in a week.
Lockheed also got some of what it wanted, including increased employee contributions to health insurance benefits. But the company agreed to limit the increase in employee contributions over the term of the contract, a crucial issue for union members.
The agreement comes at an important time for Lockheed, which is building F-16 fighters for export, boosting production of F-22 fighter jets and trying to stay close to the planned schedule for developing and testing the new F-35 joint strike fighter for the Pentagon.
"We are pleased that the IAM membership has ratified a new contract," said Lockheed spokesman Joe Stout. "The proposal was the result of good-faith negotiations between the company and the union bargaining committees. It allows our employees to continue to build some of the world's most important military aeronautics products."
The new contract includes a $2,000 ratification bonus to be paid no later than May 12 and a wage increase of 4% this year and 3% in each of the next two years, including an increase in the minimum hourly rate for new employees.
Lockheed also agreed to boost monthly pension payments for new and existing retirees and increase its contributions to retiree health-insurance coverage. The company did win one important concession in that it will no longer offer retiree health insurance coverage to newly hired employees. Instead it will make quarterly payments to tax-free accounts that those employees can use later.
Union members voted 2,168 to 456 to ratify the contract after hearing it explained and endorsed by their leadership and the negotiating committee.