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ULA Union Workers Considering Launching a Strike Over Dismal Contract Negotiations

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Thursday afternoon, scientists in Florida scrubbed the launch of a United Launch Alliance rocket set to deliver a communications satellite into space.

The Atlas V rocket was four minutes away from launching, when scientists noted a lack of helium flow to the interstage adapter compartment on the launch vehicle.

Meanwhile, the workers who built that rocket are considering launching a strike against the company over a new three-year contract.

Thursday, a group of ULA employees gathered outside the plant in Decatur to blast off about failing negotiations with company officials over a new three-year-contract.

"The company's wanting to freeze the new hires out on the retirement plan which means the future employees, once they come in, they'll have no retirement," said Phillip Carr, the chairman of the union's negotiating committee.

Add to that, higher medical costs and new language the union doesn't agree with and union representatives are fed up with what they see as a lack of bargaining by company officials over the last three weeks of meetings.

"It was about take-aways," said Gary Wills, a representative for Local 44, talking about what he sees as the company's priorities.

"We're not dealing with a company that's having financial problems," said Carr.

In February, ULA managers were celebrating profits during a tough economy and their ability to hire 150 new workers since this time last year.

Dan Caughran, ULA's Decatur site manager, told WHNT NEWS 19 in February, "Our production output is increasing and that's putting us in a good situation of needing more employees."

Carr said the workers keep the plant running.

"What we build and test and ship to the launch facilities is what keeps the doors open on that plant," he said.  "If we don't build rockets, they don't have a plant.  I mean, this would be an empty building," said Carr motioning towards ULA's site on Red Hat Road.

The contract affects about 450 employees in Decatur and another 400 at the company's sites in California and Florida.

Those employees are set to meet on Sunday to vote on the company's final offer.

If they vote it down, the next vote they'll take will be whether or not to strike, which is something they say they don't want to do.

"No one wins at a strike," said Wills.  "What you lose when you're out on strike, it's very hard to ever regain."

The workers' contract is set to expire at midnight on Sunday, May 6th.

Wednesday, union representatives filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming ULA company officials refused to bargain in good faith.

They claim on several occasions, company officials didn't even show up for bargaining meetings.