Picketing Bell Helicopter Worker Struck by Truck

By Jeff Smith
|  Friday, Sep 6, 2013  |  Updated 9:17 AM CDT
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A striking Bell Helicopter union member was struck by a truck while picketing outside the company's headquarters on Sept. 6, 2013.

Jeff Smith, NBC 5

A striking Bell Helicopter union member was struck by a truck while picketing outside the company's headquarters on Sept. 6, 2013.

A confrontation this morning between striking Bell Helicopter employees and a truck driver turned violent, leaving one man in handcuffs and another on the ground being treated by paramedics.

The union representing hourly Bell employees went on strike at midnight Friday. UAW Local 218 represents about 2,500 hourly workers.

About a dozen employees picketed outside the Bell plant Friday morning, with some going back and forth across the crosswalk at an employee entrance. Picketers shouted at several drivers headed to work as they crossed the picket line.

According to witnesses, including NBC 5's Jeff Smith, one driver did not fully wait for the light to change and drove his truck forward into a group of picketers, hitting one man in the leg. That man fell to the ground, while other strikers banged on the truck to get it to stop.

"We were trying to get his attention, that we were walking at the time, but for some reason, he just barreled right through one of our guys over here," said striker Snuffy Dupree.

Several employees identified the injured man as Darryl Wooldridge. Workers had to carry him off the ground because he was unable to walk.

Police arrived quickly on the scene and pulled over the truck driver in the Bell parking lot. Hurst police later confirmed that driver was placed under arrest.

Paramedics treated Wooldridge in an ambulance but said he refused transport to the hospital. The worker was eventually able to walk under his own power, with a heavy limp on his left leg. He went home for the day.

"We're all in shock. We're all brothers and sisters out here in the union," Dupree said. "We didn’t want it to come to this. We want to practice a safe picket line out here.

The union has been working without a contract since early June. They rejected a second contract offer last month with a resounding 97-percent "no" vote.

Workers say they have several reasons for going on strike -- including objecting to rising health care premiums, changes to overtime and pension plans, changes to medical insurance plans, and the elimination of several positions that could result in 200 layoffs.

"I want it in writing, and they won’t do that. They’re slowly taking away my pension," said Tammy Mcleod, one of the striking workers who are walking the picket line. "They won’t put anything in writing. They say take it, and trust me. But I wouldn’t trust a used car salesman without a contract. I wouldn’t trust anybody if I was buying a house with no contract. So why should I trust somebody if they don’t know me and I don’t know them?"

Bell's CEO has said the company needs to reduce its costs because of a reduction in orders for military aircraft and they are negotiating in good faith with the union.

In a statement on the strike, Bell Helicopter said negotiations were ongoing as of Thursday.

We are disappointed the UAW chose to strike. We met at the negotiating table yesterday – only the fourth time the Union has come to the table since the contract expired in early June.  Union officials informed us yesterday they planned to return to negotiations on October 3.

Our customers are our highest priority – delivering on our commitments remains our focus.  We are executing our Business Continuation Plan and will continue operations with qualified Bell Helicopter employees and contract augmentation workers to perform critical duties and keep the manufacturing lines operating.

The Company remains willing to negotiate with the Union and believes it is in everyone’s best interests to continue to work.  We urge the Union to quickly return to the negotiating table to reach an agreement that meets the needs of our customers and employees, and helps all of us win in the marketplace.

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