Chris Van Horne, Fort Worth Reporter
Striking workers are picketing outside the Fort Worth plant where Lockheed Martin makes F-35 fighter jets. Union leaders say the company's proposed changes to the pension plan, health costs and new hires policy are unacceptable.
Striking Lockheed Martin Corp. workers picketed outside of the Fort Worth plant where the aerospace company makes F-35 fighter jets.
"Ain't no way" was the rally cry of the 10 or so picketers that walked a rut in the road in front of Lockheed Martin's facility Monday morning. The picketers are some of the nearly 3,600 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 776 that voted to strike Sunday.
The strike began Monday just after midnight.
The union said 94 percent of its membership rejected what Lockheed Martin called its "last, best and final offer," in large part because of the elimination of a defined benefit pension program for new hires and an increase in the cost of health care coverage.
"Right now, there are a lot of issues that are open that are deal breakers for us," said Paul Black, president of IAM&W Local 776. "The two major ones are the health care and the pension. But there are other things that are still open on the table that are unacceptable, so I would say we're a pretty long ways away."
The Fort Worth facility of the world's largest defense contractor produces F-16s and the F-35, a long-delayed fighter jet that represents the most expensive government contract of its kind.
Those on the picket line said they would not give in to the company's demands.
"We're not going to give in, we're out here for the duration," said Dale Roesicke, a 35-year veteran of the plant and three other standoffs over contracts. "It's still tough being on the outside. We'd rather be inside working. But we got to do what we got to do; somebody's got to stand up."
Roesicke said paying more for health care and switching from pensions to 401ks for new employees are unacceptable.
"We feel obligated to our kids, our grandkids, the kids that ain't even born yet," Roesicke said. "These big companies like this want to keep all the money for the big boys. We'd like for the little guys to have some, too."
Lockheed Martin said it believes the offer is fair.
In a statement on Sunday, the company said it felt its offer was fair and was disappointed in the union's vote. It said contingency plans were in place to keep the F-35 program up and running.
A Lockheed Martin spokesman said the plant remains open and that no problems have been reported. He said some employees have been assigned alternate job duties to take over for the striking workers.
Two of the planes flew from the facility Monday afternoon.
But some of the workers on the picket lines said they doubted what work was being done.
"I crossed that line in 2003 when I was a supervisor, and salary can say they're working on something in there. They're not; they're tinkering," Otis Joines said. "They're not building nothing."
While the company said its contingency plans were in place, so did the union members who were told for months that a strike might be a possibility.
"We know to start saving right after each contract -- putting money each week from our paychecks, just like we would our savings plan, knowing we could go on strike," Joines said.
"We just saved our money, and we hope everyone else did too," Roesicke said, adding that the younger employees who didn't have time to save would be assisted by the union.
The longest strike in company history lasted for three weeks in 1984. Union president Black told NBC 5 he believes this work stoppage could last longer.
Roesicke and the other workers said they don't plan on going anywhere -- at least not until they get a fair offer.
"It'll be 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "We'd like for it to be quick, but six weeks, six months -- we don't care."
Both sides said no new meetings or negotiations have been scheduled. Lockheed said it would sit down if the union asks to do so.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.