Around 300 United Launch Alliance workers in Decatur join strike

DECATUR Ala. -- United Launch Alliance workers on are on strike. Around 300 workers are on strike at the Decatur manufacturing facility, but there are around 600 ULA workers on strike in total. The other strike sites are at launch sites in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Representatives with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers began picketing at midnight on Sunday. They are striking after turning down a proposed three-year contract,  replacing one that expired May, 6.

Tony Wirth, the Grand Lodge Special Representative, said the union has many issues with the new contract, and they're not about money. He said the strike about respect and job security. He said union representative says a major problem with the contract is forced travel.

"The people we have out here on the line and the rest of their co-workers can be told now, 'We want you to go work down in Cape Canaveral or go over to Vandenburg California and work for thirty days,' even if you don't want to," Wirth said.

He said those workers would still be paid what they make in Decatur, while employees at other launch sites may be making more. He also said the forced travel creates problems for those who may be single parents or are caring for their elderly parents.

"They'll ask for volunteers but if they can't get the volunteers, they're gonna force them. That's about respect," Worth said. "Job security, that's a whole different ballgame."

He said there is language in the contract where management can step in and do employees' work, and that they can subcontract work if they are training somebody.

"We would rather have our people do our work. They put some good keywords in there, that said no one would be displaced," Wirth said. "But anytime you bring in a subcontractor, you know our hairs start sticking up. That's a problem."

He also said the company does not want to handle the employee pensions anymore. In the contract, ULA offered different options but the union representative says it's ULA's responsibility, and they should continue to take care of employee pension plans.

ULA said the contract they offered actually included a $6,000 ratification bonus per employee, an increase in the annual cost of living expenses, and wage increases. In a statement, ULA said that they believe the offer is fair, competitive, and in the best interest of both employees and the company.

ULA President, Tony Bruno said in a statement that he is disappointed the workers rejected their offer and voted to strike. He said their final offer contributes to long-term viability in an increasingly competitive launch business environment.

"They're telling us that they want to compete with Space X and the other competitors, we understand that. But for us, we've been doing this, we've got a perfect record," Wirth said. "We have a perfect record and it speaks for itself."

ULA said work will continue at all three sites, and that they will implement strike contingency plans.

The workers on strike say this strike is so important because they are standing up to support and spend time with their families.

"I just hope everybody realizes that these people are out here doing what they have to do for their families," said Anthony Holton, the president of Local Lodge 2003. "The ability to provide and take care of their families. It doesn't outweigh what they want to do for their jobs and to produce the great rockets that they do, but they have to be able to take care of family too."

This is not the first time employees have gone on strike. Back in 2005, Boeing employees, which are now a part of United Launch Alliance, went on strike for three months. That strike involved about 1,500 machinists, and that dispute was over health care costs. That strike ended with only a slightly revised contract being negotiated.