EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney and the Machinists union have agreed to begin contract talks two months early, with negotiations opening Tuesday and a ratification vote as early as Aug. 19.
Union representative James Parent said the company asked the union for the early start as the company works to complete several major government contracts.
Negotiations were scheduled to begin in October, but the company wants to reduce the costs of contingency planning in the event of a strike when the contract expires Dec. 2, Parent said.
''They'd like to see what they call labor peace,'' he said.
A spokeswoman for Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., confirmed that the company asked the union for the early start to negotiations, but would not discuss details.
''We are pleased the IAM has agreed to enter early contract talks with Pratt & Whitney and we are committed to working together with the union toward a successful conclusion to these negotiations,'' the company said in a statement.
Parent said the company offered a contract similar to the pact ratified in May by Machinists at aerospace manufacturer Hamilton Sundstrand, also a United Technologies company. That agreement raised pay by 3.5 percent and provided increases to the pension plan. Workers were required to pay more for health care.
Pratt & Whitney also offered to make the contract retroactive to July 1, he said.
A major issue to the union is the loss of jobs, Parent said. Pratt & Whitney has not imposed layoffs, but the number of workers has declined since December 2004 from nearly 4,500 to about 4,100 due to retirement and buyouts, he said.
''That's going to be the big fight here,'' Parent said. ''The company should be making an effort to fill our shops here.''
The average age among workers at Pratt & Whitney's three plants in Connecticut is 52 and 1,500 workers have more than 35 years on the job, Parent said.
''Job security is if we see more young faces coming in,'' he said.
Pratt & Whitney last month announced it won two U.S. Air Force engine contracts valued at more than $2 billion. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Inc., a subsidiary, announced in June a $1.2 billion NASA contract to design and develop rocket engines for the next generation spacecraft that would eventually send astronauts back to the moon.
In December 2004, Machinists avoided a strike by rejecting the union leadership's recommendation against a proposed contract. Union officials faulted the agreement for, among other reasons, lacking guarantees of job security.
Parent said at the time that workers were unwilling to walk the picket lines at the approach of Christmas.
The Machinists now will propose that the new contract extend to June 2010 to avoid possible strikes in the winter and near Christmas, Parent said.
The last strike against Pratt & Whitney was an 11-day walkout in December 2001.