Bell Helicopter workers picket

June 15, 2009 4:52:07 PM PDT
Manufacturing workers at Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. picketed the company's Fort Worth-area plants Monday, their first day on strike in more than two decades, a union leader said. Tom Wells, chairman of United Auto Workers Local 218, said workers braved nearly triple-digit temperatures to demonstrate outside eight facilities where they produce parts, components and assemblies for all Bell aircraft, including the V-22 Osprey and H-1 military helicopters and the company's civilian models.

The employees rejected a three-year contract Sunday because of proposed increases in medical costs and plans to outsource the work of janitors. The vote triggered a strike at midnight.

"The membership has stepped up to the plate," Wells said. "We're manning the gates at all eight Bell facilities, even in the heat."

Wells said he had not heard from the company about resuming negotiations but that a bargaining committee was in position to resume work within four hours. The workers' last strike ended after three weeks in 1987.

Bell spokesman Thomas Dolney said nearly 2,500 workers represented by the union account for 25 percent of the company's employees. The contract doesn't cover assembly plants in Amarillo and Mirabel, Canada.

Dolney said nonstriking workers reported for work as usual Monday. Wells said he knew of one union member who crossed the picket line.

The new contract included a $4,500 bonus up front, 3 percent wage increases in the second and third years and 11 cost-of-living adjustments. Union members balked at a health care premium increase from $20 per week to $75 per week, which they said would almost wipe out the bonus after taxes.

Some workers said they didn't want to strike but couldn't endorse eliminating janitors. The company countered that current janitors 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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