- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

DALEVILLE, Ala. (AP) - David Clark grew worried this week as nearly 3,000 Army Fleet Support workers stopped working and took to the picket lines - a move that pretty much emptied the skies of military aircraft.

Empty skies mean empty stores to Clark, who owns The Hangar Inc., a pair of pilot-oriented supply and gift shops located near the Fort Rucker gates in Daleville and Enterprise.

Clark is one of several store owners in Daleville and Enterprise who depend on the workers and soldiers of Fort Rucker to keep business strong.

“If they’re not flying, they’re not buying,” Clark said from his Daleville store on Tuesday.

Civilian workers represented by the International Association of Machinists union went on strike Monday after contract negotiations broke down with their employer, L-3 Army Fleet Support. Union members met with federal mediators Tuesday, and L-3 managers were scheduled to do the same Wednesday.

Donnie Patrick Sr., owner of Patrick Furniture on Rucker Boulevard in Enterprise, agreed the strike could be economically painful.

“It’s going to affect everything,” Patrick said, giving the wry smile of someone who has owned a military-oriented business for the last 47 years. “It affects everything. In fact, any time that you throw something into the economy unusual or different - any kind of change - people stop spending money.”

It’s not a new position for Rucker-based businesses - especially not lately. Most have already spent the last few years weathering the government shut-downs of sequestration, defense budget cuts, reductions in flight students and an overall slow economy.

According to a report from Third Way and Regional Economic Models Inc., Alabama lost more than $1 billion in gross domestic product and nearly 12,000 jobs during the recent defense sequester alone.

“If this is protracted for more than a few weeks, it’ll have a devastating effect on these businesses,” Clark said, noting that his contingency plan for a long-lasting strike will be to temporarily close his Enterprise business. “We’re fortunate to be able to support 10 employees and their families. So, I hope the actions of AFS doesn’t affect my ability to give my employees what they’ve earned and what they deserve.”

But there is some good news, said Scott Beaulier, executive director of the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

Most strikes of this size in the U.S. rarely last long, said Beaulier, who noted that, in each of the last five years, there had been fewer than 20 strikes involving more than 1,000 or more workers. On average, these strikes lasted less than four days in 2013, he said.

Still, longer strikes can cause major problems for the economy. A strike such as this one, which affects military aircraft, also can contribute to national defense problems, Beaulier said.

In addition, he said, “union-led strikes of any length are damaging to the local economy longer term, because they run the risk of scaring off business investment.”

But, so far, not everyone is worried. Not on Day 2, at least.

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