November 1, 2016

Pratt, Machinists union start contract talks

Pratt & Whitney and Machinists union negotiators kick off contract negotiations today, Nov. 1, to replace the existing labor pact that expires Dec. 4, when union members will vote on the company's final offer.

Mike Stone, assistant directing labor representative for International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 26 and chief union negotiator, said talks begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Cromwell. The talks involve members of union Local 1746 in East Hartford and Local 700 in Middletown.

"The union's goal is to bring our members a package that addresses their job and economic security," Stone said.

East Hartford-based Pratt spokesman Ray Hernandez said his company's objective is "to reach an agreement that is both fair to our employees and allows the company to remain competitive."

This round of contract talks occurs under markedly different circumstances than the last round of talks in 2013.

Pratt officials, faced with what they say is a nearly unprecedented period of demand for its newest commercial and military jet engines, have said they plan to hire about 8,000 workers in Connecticut through 2026 to keep pace with burgeoning production demand over the next decade.

Speaking in September at a Middlesex Chamber of Commerce meeting, Pratt President Robert F. Leduc said some of the new hires will replace current workers who are retiring.

But there also are new jobs due to an expected backlog of $1 trillion in engine business that will be the largest the company has seen since World War II, Leduc said.

Pratt has around 9,500 Connecticut employees — about a third of those hourly workers and union members — split between its Middletown plant and its East Hartford headquarters.

In contrast, Pratt three years ago was in the midst of a series of layoffs and early retirement initiatives, as it marked time until new engine programs could start to reinvigorate production lines.

From 2010 to 2013, Pratt lost more than 1,000 hourly workers to layoffs and voluntary separation packages.

Union members approved the current three-year contract by a paper-thin margin of 1,119 to 1,033 votes — only 4 percent of the total 2,152 votes cast. More than 640 union members either didn't show up or did not vote.

The existing labor agreement provided a 2 percent raise in each of the three years, as well as a $2,000 signing bonus. The company also increased by $7 a month its maximum contribution to workers' pension plans.

But Pratt went on to eliminate between 100 and 140 material-handling jobs in East Hartford and Middletown as it farmed out the parts-supply function to a subcontractor. The company offered a voluntary separation package in an effort to minimize the number of forced layoffs, under the contract.

Anticipated increases in employees' health insurance contributions also were held off until 2015.

In a forerunner of the new Pratt contract talks in May, Machinists union members at Pratt's sister operation in Windsor Locks, the former Hamilton Sundstrand, overwhelmingly approved a new five-year contract.

The union members at what is now known as United Technologies Aerospace Systems voted 637-133 to approve the pact, with 82.7 percent in favor.

The contract gave workers annual 2 percent raises and boosted pensions for current workers, but eliminated traditional pensions for those hired after June 30. For new workers, the company agreed to contribute 4 percent of their gross pay to a defined contribution plan, such as an IRA or Healthcare Savings Account.

The plant became known as UTAS in 2012 after United Technologies Corp., the Farmington-based parent of both Pratt and Hamilton, bought Goodrich Corp. for $18 billion. UTAS has headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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