Hytek Machinists march; management drags feet

KENT – After a year of contract talks, management at Hytek Finishes has yet to provide its hourly workers with an acceptable contract proposal, according to officers with the Machinists Union.

Union members have been marching through the company’s Kent plant on their lunch breaks this week, showing their solidarity and their growing frustration, said Kevin Cummings, a grand lodge representative for the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers.

“We’ve tried for 12 months to reach an agreement on a fair contract,” Cummings said. “Their latest proposal doesn’t come close.”

Machinists Union District Lodge 751 represents more than 175 hourly workers at Hytek Finishes. The company, which is a subsidiary of Bellevue-based Esterline Corp., is a direct supplier to aerospace companies including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopters. Hytek is an important supplier for the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The workers voted 2-to-1 in August 2011 to join the union. Talks started in October, but quickly bogged down. Since February, the union has filed 15 complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Hytek management of repeated violations of federal labor law, including intimidating and harassing union supporters at work.

“They’ve literally violated every single section of the National Labor Relations Act,” Cummings alleged.

The two sides have been meeting with a mediator since May, and have made some progress. But they remain far apart on key issues, including benefits and pay.

Hytek workers are now saddled with an Esterline corporate health care plan that Cummings said is “literally the worst plan our union has ever seen, anywhere in North America.”

The plan obligates union members to paying more than $7,000 out of pocket each year before health care benefits kick in. A number of Hytek workers – who make on average less than $17 an hour – have gone into bankruptcy in recent years because of medical bills, Cummings said.

“Health care is a big issue for our members, because they work with chemicals every day,” he said. “If they get sick, there’s a real concern that they’ll end up losing their cars or their homes with this health care plan.”

Pay is also an issue. Hytek’s own calculations show that workers would need 7 percent raises in this contract to get them up to pay levels for workers who do similar work in other industries, Cummings said.

Instead, Hytek has proposed 3 percent raises for roughly 90 percent of the workforce, while the remainder – individuals singled out by management — would be hit with an indefinite pay freeze.

“That was a shock for them,” Cummings said. “These are good people, hard workers,.”

In August, Esterline reported a third-quarter profit from continuing operations of $35.1 million, with a gross profit margin of 35.4 percent.

For the year, Esterline CEO Brad Lawrence told Wall Street to expect earnings per share to grow by 15 percent compared to last year; from $4.27 a share in 2011 to between $4.90 and $5 a share this year, excluding a one-time charge.

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at the Boeing Co., District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 32,000 working men and women in Washington, Oregon and California. In December 2011, District 751 members ratified a four-year contract extension with Boeing that ensured the 737 MAX will be built in Renton.

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