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Texas IAM Members Fight to keep health care and defined benefit pensions

The workers at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, are a spunky, tenacious bunch.  Amidst a recession with sky high jobless rates, many workers only dream of taking on the company to stop concessions.  Some have the courage to fight.  
These 3,600 workers, members of District Lodge 776, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), saw Lockheed Martin coming after their pensions and health care and made a plan to stop that from happening.  The company wants to impose a high deductible health plan that shifts the burden of payment for those who get sick onto the patients.  A family of three would have to pay $2,000 before the insurance payment kicks in.

As health policy expert Dr. John Geyman puts it:  “High-deductible plans equate with underinsurance.  These plans leave people with health care needs vulnerable to financial barriers to care.”

The members of District Lodge 776 voted by 94% to authorize a strike and have been on the picket line since April 23, 2012.  Lockheed Martin is the largest defense contractor in the nation will over $17 billion in contracts in 2010.

Until single payer passes, these contract battles for health care must continue

Until HR 676, single payer health care legislation, passes through Congress and assures care for everyone, these difficult struggles are the only way to protect the coverage workers have won.  Since 2007, the IAMAW has been a strong supporter of Congressman John Conyers’ single payer bill, HR 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All.  The IAMAW at the international level is lending its full support to District Lodge 776 to help them win this contract fight.

In preparation for negotiations, Local Lodge 776 C President Augie Podsednik, leveled with the members.  “This will be the hardest negotiation,” he said, as he predicted that the company would try to impose LM HealthWorks, a high deductible health plan that had already been forced on the salaried workers.  “Everyone knows if you’ve talked to any salaried person on HealthWorks, what it’s going to cost,” said Podsednik.  “And if they take new hires’ retirement away, they will eventually come after ours.” 

That’s the other big issue.  The company wants to rope the union into accepting that those hired after this agreement will no longer have a defined benefit pension.  International IAMAW President Tom Buffenbarger, in a March speech to the District Lodge 776 membership, said that this scheme weakens the existing pension plan for those who would still have it.  When a young person coming in no longer has a pension, what kind of support will you get to protect yours, he asked.  “They want to divide you to sell the unborn.” 

We’ve All Got to Protect Each Other

James Little, who works on wing structures for the fighter planes they build and is the 776A Local Negotiator, said that the company pushed their LM HealthWorks and took away pensions from new hires at Marietta.  “We should not have to choose between making a house payment and taking a sick kid to the doctor.  We’ve all got to protect each other.”  Little said that the “LM HealthWorks is designed to shove major cost onto you and your family.  If you’re like me—a new hire—it will eat up your paycheck.”
Mark Stewart is a local union negotiator and a south end machinist who has worked at Lockheed Martin for over 34 years.  “This new insurance is the worst, absolutely the worst,” he said, adding that the supervisors, who were forced into this plan by the company, “will tell you that it’s worse than terrible.  It takes $650 out of your pocket first thing before you really get insurance, and then it pays 85-15.  They’re dealing us backwards.  They’re wanting to take away, take away.  It will wind up costing you $10 an hour just to cover your insurance for your co-pays—not to mention all your prescriptions.  Then if you go out of network, it’s a 65-35 that doesn’t even start until you pay $1,500.”

Stewart urged the members to become active and speak up.  “Don’t be a victim.  We have the power.  We are a union.”  Speaking for the negotiating committee, he said,  “We are only the negotiators—everything is won on the shop floor.”

Company Offers Lower Weekly Contributions to get workers to opt for LM HealthWorks

Paul Black, President and Directing Business Representative of District Lodge 776, explained to members what Lockheed Martin seeks to impose.  
“The company has proposed LM HealthWorks which is a high deductible and high out of pocket maximum plan that would work great, if you never get sick or have to use it. The company proposal only leaves one other insurance option, which is the Aetna HMO plan. The weekly contribution for LM HealthWorks is lower than the cost of the Aetna HMO. The company’s plan is to get the majority of you to select LM HealthWorks because of the lower weekly contributions. Then during the next round of contract negotiations the company will propose to take away the Aetna HMO leaving everyone with LM HealthWorks. WE FIGHT THIS FIGHT NOW OR IN THREE YEARS!!!”

The Lockheed Martin Health plan will wreck a lot of household budgets

Earnest Boone, a local negotiator who works as an overhead operator rigger, has worked at the company for over 30 years.  He said, “LM Healthworks is all about money.  It will wreck a lot of household budgets of our members.”  He urged the members to fight it.  “To keep what we have will take all of us standing together.” 
Robin Atkins, a local negotiator and finisher painter who has been with the company since 1978 pointed to Lockheed Martin’s high profit rate and lack of debt.  “Lockheed thinks our members won’t strike on these issues due to the fear of the recession.  Corporate greed is driving the company.”  He said that Lockheed “must stop trying to pad their pockets by picking ours.”
Larry Brown, a local negotiator who works as a materials handler and is a second shift shop steward, said that in 2011 Lockheed Martin negotiated at Marietta, Palmdale, and Sunnyvale and had big takeaways through LM Healthworks and removing the defined pension plan for future employees.  “Lockheed Martin needs to share the wealth with the bargaining unit that provides the skills….” 
A Big Percentage of Us Are Beyond the Preventative Stage

An aircraft assembler on the F-35 who is on strike expressed his concerns in a letter to Directing Business Representative Black. 

“The Company’s ultimate plan is to move us into LM HealthWorks which is a high deductible plan with higher out of pocket maximums which focuses on preventative care.  A fact that Lockheed Martin continues to ignore is a big percentage of us are beyond the preventative stage, we need good quality, affordable healthcare that takes care of us!

“Has Lockheed forgotten that we are the ones who worked with many chemicals and materials which at the time were considered safe, only to find out years later they were not safe. There were no MSDS’s (Materials Safety Data Sheets) to go by back then, none the company shared with us anyway.

“M.E.K. (Methyl Ethyl Ketone) ring a bell with anyone? We used that stuff like it was water we used it to clean everything and didn’t use gloves or respirators either!  When the company started making us use those orange rubber gloves we found out later those gloves didn’t protect us at all, we needed special neoprene gloves. There was no such thing as ergonomically correct tools and equipment either, so we now have worn out hands, elbows, shoulders, hips, backs and knees that need to be taken care of so we might be able to enjoy a few of those ‘Golden Years’ pain free.”

Solvents, chemicals, sealants—even asbestos

The letter writer continued: 

 “There is no telling how much of the solvents, chemicals and sealants we absorbed through our skin or inhaled into our lungs. Some of us were even involved in a few asbestos spills out on the line over the years before the asbestos was abated. Now we are working with new composites and all kinds of new chemicals and compounds and God only knows what will be found out about that stuff in a few years!

“To show their appreciation to those that stayed the course and did the work to make Lockheed Martin what it is today, this company wants us to pay more for our insurance which provides less coverage with higher deductibles and higher out of pocket maximums.

“Anyone else find it amazing that after we have accepted substandard packages in the past, within a few weeks after the close of negotiations how we read in the headlines about Lockheed Martin Corporate Executives receiving huge bonuses?

“Hey Lockheed ‘We are people, flesh and blood who have had some amongst our ranks suffer and die in order for you to profit’  I believe you can afford to share your reward.”

Help those who have the courage to wage this battle

District Lodge 776 is a spark of hope for all of us.  Those who have the courage to strike and are sacrificing to wage this battle deserve all the support we can give.  Messages of solidarity and contributions can be sent to:  District Lodge 776, 7711 Clifford St, Fort Worth, Texas 76108.  Please note on the check that this is for the strike fund.

All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care–HR 676

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Kay Tillow

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