- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — Machinists at the Lockheed Martin plant spent their first day on strike yesterday taking turns picketing in protest of the high cost of retiree benefits and the looming possibility of defense-spending cuts.

“Right now we’re just kind of waiting to see what happens,” said Paul Morris, the grand lodge representative at the local union headquarters. “We’re still getting the logistics together, but so far things are going very good.”

The roughly 2,800 members of the International Association of Machinists Local 709 went on strike at 12:01 a.m. yesterday at the plant in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, seeking a contract with better provisions for pay, health care premiums and retiree insurance benefits.

Prospects for reconciling the differences between the machinists and management looked bleak, said union representative Terry Smith.

The picketers were rotating on four-hour shifts. Morning commuters passed by the plant that builds F/A-22 Raptor fighters and C-130J transports, honking their car horns in support of the strikers who braved the chilly, windy morning.

The union, by a 2-1 margin, rejected on Feb. 27 a tentative contract that would have raised hourly pay 10 percent over three years and given $1,500 signing bonuses. Mr. Smith said the union recommended members approve the contract. Lockheed workers typically earn about $25 an hour.

He said the members likely chose not to approve the contract because they are worried about the Bethesda, Md.-based company’s request for higher health care premiums and the elimination of retiree medical benefits for people hired after the contract is imposed.

Jack Perry wanted to retire two years ago, but couldn’t afford to, he said. The 21-year employee would have received $918 a month in retirement benefits but would have had to pay $587 monthly to maintain his insurance.

“I couldn’t figure out how I was going to live on $300 a month,” said Mr. Perry, 62.

Benefits for retirees seemed to be the protesters’ main concern, because it has not been decided yet whether there will be cuts in defense spending.

“Everybody’s concerned about that, but we still don’t know if it’s going to happen,” machinist Cherry Huck said.

Georgia lawmakers have been lobbying against proposed reductions in Pentagon spending on the two aircraft types.

A top Air Force official told senators last month that the Pentagon was reconsidering cuts to the Georgia-made aircraft because of new information about the costs of such a reduction.

A report expected at the end of March is supposed to give the Pentagon more information about the costs.

Lockheed Martin’s Marietta plant employs about 7,800 workers, with 2,300 working on the F/A-22 Raptor program. The C-130J program employs about 2,000 workers.

Forrest Sorrells of Cartersville, Ga., joined the picket line at 4 a.m. yesterday for a four-hour stint in rain and high wind. Mr. Sorrells, 46, said he actually voted for the contract.

“But it’s OK to be on strike,” said Mr. Sorrells, who has worked at Lockheed for 20 years and commutes 60 miles round-trip each day. “They [management] want us to retire and pay a thousand dollars a month in insurance.”

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