FORT WORTH — Machinists, forklift operators and other hourly employees at Bell Helicopter declared strike at midnight on Friday after an impasse with the company over healthcare, overtime and changes in the company’s pension.
United Auto Workers 218 “on strike,’’ declared the website of the Bell Helicopter union of more than 2,500 employees. “Unfair labor practices,’’ the website declared moments into Friday.
Company officials could not be reached for comment at 1 a.m. on Friday.
The parties have been in negotiations since April. UAW 218 employees have been working without a contract since June 9, when members overwhelmingly rejected an initial “best offer” proposal. The union rejected a second proposal last month.
However, in the last few months, the two sides appeared to be making headway after the company conceded to remove some unpoplar proposals regarding combining some job classifications.
The union objects to proposals about rising health care premiums and changes to pension and overtime. New employees would not longer have access to the company’s traditional defined benefit plan and would have to depend on a 401(k) style plan.
A few weeks ago, Bell CEO John Garrison stated publicly that the company could not agree to additional concessions on some much-debated issues but did not specify what those issues were.
Union leaders have said that the company is trying to demolish “rights and benefits hard won over a period of 60 years of negotiations.” The union’s website says that in some cases, the company has refused to bargain with the UAW on key issues such as overtime, healthcare, cost of living and pension benefits.
But Bell officials have said that the company is open to hearing union proposals “on any and all elements of the collective bargaining agreement.”
Bell spokesman Bill Schroeder has said that Bell has some of the “most highly compensated employees in the aviation and defense industry.” According to the contract proposal, the Bell union workers on average earn base rates of more than $66,518 a year.
Union workers have disputed the value of pay increases in the June 9 proposal and say other takeaways would reduce benefits and threaten jobs.
While Bell said its proposed contract would provide pay increases of 9 percent over three years, workers said many veteran employees would receive far less: no raise in the first year and 2 percent in each of the next two years. Company officials have not responded to a request for more details on the wage increases.