Pratt & Whitney Machinists Reject Contract

Jet engine manufacturer's workers rejected three-year contract proposal that included 60 percent increase in health insurance premiums for workers.

WALLINGFORD, Conn. (AP) — Machinists at jet-engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected a new three-year contract proposal by the company.
The machinist union's chief negotiator, James Parent, said the main sticking points were the company's lack of commitment to add jobs in Connecticut and a proposed 60 percent increase in health insurance premiums for workers.
Union members voted 1,485 to 798 against the proposal at the Chevrolet Theatre. More than half the 4,000 Pratt workers represented by District 26 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers voted.
The new contract included pay increases of 3.5 percent for each of the three years, retroactive to July 1, and a $3,000 signing bonus. The current contract expires Dec. 2.
''Now we've got to get back together and see if we can negotiate a new contract that will be better for the members,'' Parent said.
No new negotiations are scheduled, but talks are expected to resume in the fall, both sides said.
East Hartford-based Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies, said in a statement that it was disappointed with the vote.
''We put a very competitive offer on the table that built on an already strong, 62-year agreement. We delivered on our commitment to provide significant improvements to address income security and retirement security while enhancing already best-in-industry job security language,'' the company said.
''We identified what we thought we could accomplish, and delivered on everything we said we would,'' Pratt said.
Beside the pay raises, the company offered a $3,000 ratification bonus to employees and said it would match half that amount if workers put the money into their retirement savings plans.
Pratt also agreed to a 16 percent increase in pension benefits and a 10 percent increase in matched savings plan contributions over the three years.
But Parent said the main issue was that the company would not commit to increasing jobs in Connecticut and not fully answer the union's demands for job security. He said the company's last offer would allow 300 workers to leave under a special retirement package, but it agreed to replace only 100 of them.
''It was pretty clear from talking to the members that there is really a need for Pratt to hire,'' Parent said.
Parent also said 40 percent of union members are working overtime to meet production schedules, another sign of the need to boost employment.
The company responded that it put strong job security in the contract. Pratt officials said they committed to bringing the Joint Strike Fighter engine program to Connecticut and hiring more than 160 new employees in the state.
Pratt and the machinist union agreed earlier this month to begin contract talks two months early. The company sought the negotiations as it worked to complete several major government contracts.
Negotiations were scheduled to begin in October, but union officials said the company wanted to reduce the costs of contingency planning in the event of a strike if the contract expired with no new deal in place.
Pratt 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, Parent said.
Pratt 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 last strike against Pratt & Whitney was an 11-day walkout in December 2001.
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