Union urges strike vote at Triumph Composites
SPOKANE – A major aerospace industry supplier could face a work stoppage next week as Machinists Union members who work at Triumph Composites Systems prepare to vote on a contract offer.
More than 400 union members, who work at the plant on Spokane’s West Plains, will vote on the company’s proposed three-year deal between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday at the Machinists Union Local Lodge 86 Union Hall, 4226 E. Mission Ave.
The union’s negotiating team is recommending that they reject the contract and go out on strike.
“We are one equal team, and we will not accept a contract that further divides us,” the negotiators told union members in a letter delivered Friday.
Talks have been underway for three weeks on a new contract to replace the current collective bargaining agreement, which expires at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
If the contract is rejected by a majority of voters Monday – and if two-thirds of them vote to strike – a walk-out could start at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
The Triumph workers are specialists in fabricating composite components for aircraft interiors, including floor panels and ducts for environmental control systems. They produce more than 10,000 environmental control system, flight deck and composite interiors assemblies and 9,000 floor panel assemblies each month, which are used in airliners built by Boeing, Airbus and Bombardier.
Union members had two over-riding goals in this year’s talks: Restoring pension benefits to all workers and eliminating a two-tier wage scheme that results in workers hired since 2006 being paid as much as 12.5 percent less for performing the same work.
Both were lost in 2013, when the company demanded those concessions, and won them when Triumph workers decided by a six-vote margin not to go on strike.
This time, Triumph managers “made very little movement to address these top issues,” said Jon Holden, the president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751, who has led the union’s negotiating team.
Under Triumph’s proposal, most workers would see cost-of-living adjustments but no wage increases during the contract. Workers hired since 2006, who are now paid 12.5 percent less, would see raises of 2 percent this year and 1.5 percent in 2018, with no raises in 2017.
Triumph did not offer to restore the pension to workers hired since 2013, and instead is proposing to cut the 401(k) match to those workers, thus reducing their retirement security.
Triumph’s failure to address these long-simmering issues was a major factor prompting the union negotiators to call for a strike, Holden said. “The company over-reached three years ago, and our members have not forgotten it.”
Then during the course of the current talks, two new issues arose, Holden said. For starters, Triumph is insisting on a contract provision that would allow it to impose unlimited increases in health care costs, starting in 2018.
“That’s a big risk for our members, asking them to trust the company to do the right thing and not pass along huge increases in health care premiums and co-pays,” he said.
The other issue is Triumph’s alleged bad-faith bargaining, which has led the union to file a number of unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. Holden said the company and its managers have engaged in intimidation and coercion on the shop floor, as well as direct dealing. The company also has refused to hand over information that the union has a right to see, under federal law, to help it bargain fairly.
One of the items Triumph refuses to disclose, Holden said, is the amount of tax dollars it is receiving from Washington taxpayers under the state’s $8.7 billion aerospace industry tax incentive program.
Since Triumph started taking the aerospace tax credits, it has moved work that used to be done in Spokane to Mexico, Holden said.
“We don’t think it’s fair for Triumph to expect the Spokane community to support their company with tax dollars, only to have it take away some residents’ jobs while cutting overall pay and benefits for those who are still working,” he said.
The aerospace industry is in the midst of a nearly unprecedented boom, with orders backlogs stretching out for seven or eight years, Holden said.
“Our members see the backlog in orders that Triumph has and they know we shouldn’t be going backwards,” he said. “These are highly skilled, very-efficient workers who put out a lot of products and earn a lot of money for Triumph.
“What we’re asking for are reasonable things,” Holden concluded. “Our members have earned better and Triumph can afford to do better.”
Originally formed in 1935 by hourly workers at the Boeing Co., District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents some 33,000 working men and women at 53 employers across Washington and California. In Eastern Washington, they are represented by a network of local lodges that includes Local 86 in Spokane, Machinists Union Local Lodge 1123 in Coulee City and Machinists Union Local Lodge 1951 in Richland.
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