FORT WORTH, Texas – Lockheed Martin, the highly profitable aerospace contractor, has forced the 3,600 Machinists Lodge 776 workers at its Fort Worth, Texas, plant to strike over its demand to eliminate traditional defined-benefit pensions for all new hires, and to force most workers and each retiree into Lockheed’s health care plan.

The strike began at 12:01 a.m. on Apr. 23, and the bargaining committee, headed by Lodge President Paul Black, warned in a recent update that it could be long. Before the strike started, the workers voted by more than nine-to-one margins, first against the firm’s offer and then to authorize the strike. Turnout was approximately 75 percent.

The union also filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office after Lockheed distributed details of its “last and best” offer on the shop floor, evading the bargaining committee. If the agency rules Lockheed broke the law, the strike would become an unfair labor practices strike, Black said. Lockheed also threatens to import “replacement workers,” or scabs, one report said.

Workers at Fort Worth manufacture and assemble one of the Defense Department’s next generation of aircraft, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a construction program that is over budget and behind schedule, due to constant DOD demands for changes.

“Everyone must understand this is not likely to be a short strike. This will not be a ‘spring break’ situation. This is a serious concessionary contract, and it will require a serious strike to fix these problems. We must be prepared to stand together for as long as it takes, or this will be simply the first of a long line of concessionary contracts from Lockheed Martin,” the bargaining committee said in its Apr. 19 update.

“In the months leading up these negotiations, we have explained the importance of good health insurance, and a defined benefit pension plan for everyone. We assured you we would not recommend any contract proposal without pension for new hires, and we will not,” the bargaining update added.

Lockheed wanted to pay $1,400 per year per new hire into a retirement savings plan, tossing the new workers out of the defined-benefit plan entirely. It proposed increasing pension payouts for existing workers when they retire, by $11 per month per year of service, news reports said. Both groups would still be eligible for 401(k) plans.

Black told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Lodge 776 offered to include the new employees in the Machinists’ own independently managed pension fund, which would provide similar benefits to the current old-style defined benefit pension, but at less cost to Lockheed. The firm “didn’t want to talk about it,” he said.

Black also said the Machinists don’t want to be thrown into the company-run health care plan. He told the paper “it’s fine, as long as you don’t get sick.” Calculations show an individual worker would have to shell out $2,100 under the company-run plan before the insurance kicks in, and a family would have to pay $5,000.

Lockheed also offered an HMO plan for the workers.

“Our families are sacrificing on the picket line without any healthcare, because Lockheed Martin saw fit to cut your health insurance the second you went on strike,” a Lodge 776 flyer reminded its members. “They don’t want to talk about the real people with real health problems your negotiating committee tried to talk about at the bargaining table.

“And we like their page about ‘The LM HealthWorks option may be better if…’ and ‘The HMO option may be better if…’ where they basically admit LM HealthWorks sucks if you have major health issues. Of course, we’ve pointed that out all along.”

Lockheed’s health care plan offer also removed all cost caps, the union said. That means “we will pay 13 percent of an undetermined amount,” it added. “We know that health care costs are rising far faster than inflation, and you have no protection from huge increases. Even if you believe Lockheed Martin’s conservative assumptions, it would mean an increase of nearly 40 percent over our current HMO health care rates.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.