Bell Helicopter Workers Reject New Contract

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Manufacturing workers at Bell Helicopter plants in the Fort Worth area went on strike early Monday for the first time in more than two decades in part to protect 44 janitors whose work the company wants to outsource.

Members of United Auto Workers Local 218, who were also upset by proposed increases in medical costs, voted 1,177 to 680 on Sunday to defeat the three-year contract.

Tom Wells, the local chairman, said they would try to negotiate a better contract for the 2,500 workers represented by the local. Union leaders had recommended approving it.

The company was disappointed the workers rejected the offer, said Bell Helicopter spokesman Thomas Dolney. Bell Helicopter is a Textron Inc. company.

Workers at the plants in the Fort Worth area produce parts, components and assemblies for all Bell aircraft, including the V-22 Osprey and H-1 military helicopters as well as the company's civilian models. The military aircraft are assembled in Amarillo and the civilian aircraft in Mirabel, Canada. The contract doesn't cover workers at either of those facilities.

Darrell Willis, strike chairman, said the contract proposal that was defeated included a substantial increase in medical insurance costs and the outsourcing of jobs covered under the janitorial classification.

He said the members "put their livelihood on the line for 44 members" and the medical costs.

"We bargained in good faith and presented a fair and equitable contract to the union that was extremely beneficial to its members," Dolney said in an e-mailed statement. "Bell and UAW 218 have a history dating back to the early 1950s of cooperation and mutual respect, and the company is determined to keep the negotiations process continuing until a satisfactory solution is reached."

The last strike ended after three weeks in 1987.

Dolney said it would be "business as usual" at the plants on Monday.

In addition to a $4,500 bonus upon ratification, the latest contract offer called for 3 percent wage increases in the second and third years of the contract and 11 cost-of-living adjustments.

Michael Brugett told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he didn't want to strike but didn't want to endorse eliminating the janitors.

"It's hard to vote someone out of a job," he said. "Our fear is: Where will that stop?"

Bell said current janitors at the plants would have been given higher-paying job classification and none of the workers would have been laid off or bumped from the promotions.

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