For the 23rd day in a row, members of the International Machinist and Aerospace Workers union have been on the strike line in front of Tinker Air Force Base.
“Never have had a strike, this is my first and we're learning as we go exactly how to do them. I hope to never have another one,” local union president Ben Moody said.
The union has a 570 worker membership, and roughly 260 work on base. Members have been striking in shifts of a dozen from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.
The union is responsible for any and all maintenance to the facilities on base everything from heating to cooling to plumbing, according to Moody. Their strike poses a problem for some work being done on base in which climate controlled buildings are key for the production of aircraft.
According to one source on base, who asked to stay anonymous, one building is already without air conditioning and there are rumors of problems in other facilities.
The union is striking against Alaska-based company Alutiiq which took over the union’s contract on Aug. 1 Alutiiq is a subsidiary of the Afognak Corporation.
Union members say the company is trying to do away with their pension, turning it into a 401(k). It's also trying to change health care and overtime benefits.
“These are huge issues,” said Moody. “Some of these guys have been paying into the pension for 16 years.”
Alutiiq recently gave the union meeting dates as far out as October, something the Moody said is a signal the company may be in it for the long haul. Although he said he wasn’t sure why Alutiiq would choose to avoid talks.
“We've worked 16 years to bargain into our contract. To have a new company to come in and try to take those away with the stroke of a pen, it's just unfair,” Moody said.
In a statement, an Alutiiq spokesperson said, “Alutiiq has a strong and positive relationship with organized labor at military installations across the United States. Alutiiq was awarded a maintenance and support contract at Tinker AFB to stat August 1. We offered employment to IAM members who are now striking and they accepted, knowing they would participate in Alutiiq’s 401(k) plan and not the IAM pension fund.”
The statement went on to say “This 401(k) plan is the standard type of retirement savings plan offered by a majority of employers to millions of American workers and is the same one senior management participates in. At the last minute, the local chapter of the IAM Union, refused to accept Alutiiq’s 401(k) plan and insists that Alutiiq participate in a multiemployer pension plan. Doing this would expose Alutiiq (and its 1,000+ Alaska Native shareholders) to significant potential liability under federal benefits laws if the fund has financial trouble. In addition, the Union’s pension has recently been under government investigation for violations of federal law and a result, paid large fines.”
According to the National Labor Relations Board, IAM had been fined in several cases, but none of the cases appeared to involved the Oklahoma chapter. Members of the LL885 said they disagree with the Alutiiq statement.
Officials from Tinker Air Force Base, did not release a comment, but said one would be available soon.