Hamilton Sundstrand workers stand up to lockout
By a member of UAW Local 1268 | June 13, 2003 | Page 11
ROCKFORD, Ill.--After rejecting a contract proposal by a 91 percent vote, about 780 members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 592 are standing strong in the face of a vicious lockout by Hamilton Sundstrand, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation.
Local 592 President Jeff Bronson described the main issues as health care, job security and the right to organize. "It's about respect," said Bronson. "On average, our workforce force has more than 20 years of seniority. And, a lot of us have two or three generations of workers there."
Hamilton Sundstrand's "last, best and final offer" would increase its workers' contribution to their health insurance premiums by 15 percent and completely eliminate retirees' health care benefits after 2008. This "would pretty much render as useless any early retirement before Medicare eligibility," warns Bronson.
"People can have a decent life on our pension, and one of the things that makes it that way is the health care insurance," Bronson continued. "There have been no real negotiations on that. Once they got to the economic portion, they just threw the paper on the table, got up and left. They didn't even read it to us, just said, 'We'll be in Room 1711. Call us.' It got to where as we tried to make movement to get a settlement, they didn't even respond to our counter proposal. That makes it hard to bargain."
Bronson said that there are also serious concerns about job security. "This is a big corporation--about $28 billion a year, with 150,000 employees worldwide. And, they can move work all over the place, even when it's not cost-effective to do so. So, we had some language in our contract from our old agreement that protected jobs. We want to enhance that somewhat."
"The other issue on the table is the right to organize," said Bronson, who explained that under the old agreement, if Hamilton Sundstrand were to open a new plant within 35 miles of Rockford, its workforce would automatically be covered by the Local 592 contract. However, Local 592 members are concerned that if the company were to purchase an existing facility, its workers would not be covered by the agreement. "We lost in arbitration 20 years ago on that issue," said Bronson. "So, we're just trying to close that loophole."
Bronson added that, because the company walked away from negotiations when the language for many of the issues that had been settled was incomplete, the union would have been unable to administer the agreement, if it had been approved. "We wouldn't have known who was eligible for the medical benefits--all of that stuff was open-ended when they walked away," said Bronson. "So, it's our thinking that they planned this, and they're doing what they think they want, and we're in it for as long as it takes."
Many of the members of Local 592 have been through this kind of struggle before. In 1986, its 1,100 members were locked out for six weeks until a federal judge ordered a one-year extension of their old contract. Upon its second expiration, a five-week strike was necessary to win a new agreement.
However in 1986-87, Sundstrand Corporation stood alone as a corporate entity. But today, in the words of a Hamilton Sundstrand spokesperson, "temporarily subcontracting work, temporarily moving work and temporarily moving equipment" as well as using management personnel to perform production work at its Rockford facilities means that United Technologies can draw upon a worldwide workforce of 150,000 in order to temporarily replace the locked-out members of Local 592.
For its part, Local 592, which began 24-7 picketing when the company announced its replacement strategy, has drawn upon the staunch solidarity of union members at other United Technology plants, who are planning to picket corporate headquarters in Hartford, Conn. The Rockford-area labor movement has also rallied behind Local 592.
Members of UAW Local 1268 from DaimlerChrysler's Belvidere Assembly Plant have joined Hamilton Sundstrand workers on the picket lines, and union leaders from Rockford's construction trades have vowed that its members will refuse to enter Hamilton Sundstrand facilities, even if separate "construction gates" are established. UPS drivers from Teamsters Local 710 have also refused to cross Local 592 picket lines. And with the UAW contract at DaimlerChrysler set to expire September 15, might Rockford become another "war zone," as did Decatur, Ill., with its three simultaneous strikes in the mid-1990s?