Aircraft workers vote down contract

Middle River factory to face strike if union, company can't agree


November 11, 1999|By Greg Schneider | Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

About 600 hourly workers at Middle River Aircraft Systems have rejected a contract offer and could go on strike next week if they do not reach an agreement with management.

Members of Local 738 of the United Aerospace Workers union met Sunday at Kenwood High School and rejected the company's proposed contract by a vote of 320-108. Management and union leaders had been negotiating since September.

The old contract expired Nov. 1.

"We're closer to a strike than we've ever been since I've been here," said Nellie Butler-Grinage, a former president of the local who has worked at the plant for 20 years.

She blamed the situation on "a membership divided against itself," with newer employees pushing for a better deal while many long-timers -- such as herself -- feel the company's offer was acceptable.

The company proposed a five-year contract with raises of 3 percent in the second and fourth years; lump-sum payments of 3 percent in the first and third years; and a lump-sum payment of 4 percent in the fifth year.

"We were told this was a last and final deal, but a lot of people thought there was something more to go get. Now they're finding out that the company is saying, `No, this is it,' " Butler-Grinage said.

The members set a deadline of 11: 59 p.m. Nov. 18 to reach an agreement, after which they will either go on strike or work without a contract. Having no contract would mean no benefits or vacation.

Patrick Feehley, president of Local 738, said yesterday that the union is waiting for a response from the company. "Hopefully, we'll get back with the company and resolve the issue and get it behind us," he said.

Middle River officials declined to discuss the situation. "We really can't talk about it until we reach an agreement," said company spokesman Michael DiMauro.

Local 738 represents more than half of the 1,100 workers at Middle River. The factory makes a variety of aircraft parts, from advanced composites for military jets to machined metal for Boeing airliners and thrust reversers for commercial jet engines.

The plant was founded in 1929 by aviation pioneer Glenn L. Martin. Its workers built the legendary China Clipper seaplane, B-26 bombers during World War II and Titan rockets. It was the original home of Martin Marietta, which merged with Lockheed three years ago. Lockheed Martin sold Middle River to General Electric in 1997.

There has not been a strike at the plant in recent history. Workers there have been especially cozy with General Manager Ray Roquemore, who was viewed as a savior for saving the plant from closure during the Lockheed-Martin Marietta merger process.

Asked if the labor dispute signaled a souring of the relationship with Roquemore, Feehley said, "I'm sure it is. Not personally. People's feelings about him personally have not changed. They just didn't like the contract offer."

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