UAW Rejects New Contract at Bell Helicopter

Manufacturing workers at Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. plants in the Fort Worth area went on strike early Monday for the first time in more than two decades.
Members of United Auto Workers Local 218 upset by proposed increases in medical costs and plans to outsource the work of janitors defeated the three-year contract on a vote of 1,177 to 680 Sunday, setting up a midnight strike deadline.
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 approval of the contract.
The company was disappointed the workers rejected the offer, said Bell Helicopter spokesman Thomas Dolney.
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 said in 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.
The expired contract offered three different health plans, including two HMOs. Employees did not have to contribute to the premium on two of those while the other required a maximum $20 weekly premium contribution for an employee with more than one dependent, the newspaper reported.
The contract that was rejected would have increased the health care premium for family coverage from $20 per week to $75, which union members said would have almost wiped out the signing bonus after the deduction of taxes.
The other health plans offered by Bell required employee premium contributions ranging from about $10 a week for an employee and family up to $36 a week depending on the deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket employee costs.
The company included a provision to pay employees up to $300 a year if they participated in a wellness program. Two of the plans included provisions for company-funded health spending accounts.
"This is a fair and equitable contract that offers Local 218 members better compensation now and in the future and the opportunity to better enjoy those benefits through healthier lifestyles," said Martha May, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Bell.
"I was very disappointed in my (bargaining) committee because they said to buy this contract,' Zachary Stokes, a material handler, told the newspaper.
Wells said the bargaining committee recommended approval after much thought because "we felt like it would be in the best interest of the membership to have it ratified."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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