By Brian Dowling, Hartford Courant
WALLINGFORD — Pratt & Whitney machinists approved a new three-year contract in a narrow vote midday Sunday that will likely lead to the loss of jobs for the union.
The members voted 1,119 to 1,037 to approve the contract, which takes effect Monday.
The agreement calls for an estimated 140 job cuts from the nearly 2,800-member union, but it protects some commercial engine work in Middletown, provides for a new manufacturing unit, and delays for one year medical cost increases.
The vote was close, and some workers expressed surprise at the outcome, saying they thought a strike would have gotten them a better deal. The two bargaining units — the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Locals 1746 and 700 — and staff of the Machinists District 26 recommended against ratification.
Hundreds of union members left right after the vote instead of sticking around to hear the results from their leadership, who counted ballots on the stage at the Oakdale Theater.
After less than a hour of tabulating ballots, the dozens of union members who were present realized the vote would be to accept the deal, against the recommendations of local and district representatives.
Mike Stone, assistant directing business representative for District 26, said he thought that workers approving the contract probably “saw enough movement from the company to preserve [jobs].”
He held out hope for even the 140 job cuts allowed under the new contract.
“We have an opportunity, if we pursue the company and push hard, to save all the jobs,” Stone said in an interview. “But there was no commitment from the company that 100 percent of them would be saved.”
The real proof, he said, is what the union looks like the next time around. “What’s the bargaining unit when we negotiate three years from now, and obviously nobody knows what that’s going to be.”
The contract adds work protection to an existing assembly and test line for the company’s PurePower commercial engine, and it will establish a new rotor manufacturing unit.
“There’s work to be done,” Stone said. “Certainly, we won’t just walk away and say, ‘OK, Pratt & Whitney, do what you said.’ We need to be vigilant and stay on them and make sure they honor the commitments they made. Shame on us if we don’t.”
Some workers were angry after the vote. Ron Frost, a union member who works in quality inspection and parts manufacturing, said that although the agreement helps protect assembly jobs, it does nothing to protect metal cutters and other parts people. “We have to keep on the company … to keep more materials work in-house,” he said.
“I expected the half-worse outcome,” Frost said. He was referring to what would have happened if the contract was rejected and a strike wasn’t authorized. In that case, the contract would have been automatically ratified at midnight.
In a statement Sunday afternoon, the company said: “The new contract addresses the interests of Pratt & Whitney’s employees and the success of the company’s new programs. It improves the already industry-leading pay and benefits package and commits new work to the Connecticut operations.
“In addition,” the company said, “the agreement places certain material handling work with a third-party logistics provider. This is critical for long-term competitiveness and ensures the company’s Connecticut operations are not disadvantaged compared to other shops that have already implemented this approach.”
The contract includes a 2.5 percent pay increase each year, an 11 percent increase in company pension benefits, a 9 percent increase in the company’s 401(k) contributions, a $2,000 lump sum signing bonus with a 50 percent matching 401(k) contribution, and an additional $1,000 lump sum.
The company’s final offer almost halved its initial request for job cuts from 252. The affected jobs are materials positions. The company said it would offer those workers a buyout of $10,000, one week of pay per year of employment, and medical and dental insurance at no cost for a year.
The engine maker, a division of Hartford-based United Technologies Corp., and its union spent more than a month hammering out details of the new contract. From the beginning, the company has proposed outsourcing materials handling jobs to a third-party logistics firm, and the union has proposed added job security provisions.