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Union votes to approve Sikorsky contract offer, return to work Wednesday

Sikorsky expects to return to full production next Monday.


September 19, 2007
By Carey Fredericks

STRATFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Teamsters union members will begin returning to work Wednesday after voting Sunday to approve a new contract with helicopter-maker Sikorsky Aircraft that involves terms
similar to those they overwhelmingly rejected six weeks ago when they walked off the job.

Sikorsky expects to return to full production next Monday, said company spokesman Bud Grebey. "We're just very excited it's behind us,'' Grebey said. "We're looking forward now and we're focused on the future."

Workers voted 1,488 to 1,416 to accept the contract. The 3,500 union members met with union leadership in four shifts, during which union negotiators explained the deal.

Union leaders did not endorse the proposal.

"Neither side won. We fought to a bloody draw," said John Murphy, Teamsters vice president. He said the union would continue to fight Sikorsky's attempts to increase employees' share of health insurance costs.

Sikorsky president Jeff Pino said the company was pleased with the vote. Sikorsky had taken out full-page newspaper advertisements to directly appeal to union members to support the contract.

"Sikorsky now enters an exciting new era with tremendous opportunities for all of our employees, and the communities where we live and work," Pino said in a statement. "We remained focused on the future and are steadfast in our commitment to providing our customers with the world's best vertical flight solutions."

Grebey said the offer approved by the union includes a bigger ratification bonus and the option for workers to select retroactive health care coverage and reimbursement for payments they may have
made for temporary insurance while on strike.

The contract includes 3.5 per cent pay raises in each year, pension improvements and a ratification bonus of $3,000.

The strike, which started Feb. 20, was the first at the helicopter-maker since 1960.

Shares of Sikorsky's parent company, United Technologies Corp., rose 51 cents to $58.48 Monday morning on the New York Stock Exchange.

The narrow margin of Sunday's vote troubled some union members, although they were happy that they soon will start receiving paycheques again.

Thomas Altieri of Seymour, who has worked for Sikorsky for almost 26 years, said he voted against the contract proposal because he believed the company would have soon made a better offer.

"We've been slapped in the face by people who told us we were like family," he said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said the agreement was good for the state and the country.

"I am relieved for the hard working families of Sikorsky," she said. "Getting these professionals back to work under a contract that will keep Sikorsky Aircraft strong for years to come is vital to our economy and jobs throughout the region. Sikorsky is part of the fabric of Connecticut."

Both sides have been under increased pressure as the strike continued. Union members, paid about $25 an hour when on the job, were receiving only $220 a week in union-paid strike benefits.

Sikorsky last week was moving to meet concerns by the U.S. navy after the navy said the strike was cutting into supplies of spare parts for its Seahawk helicopter, used in Iraq and around the world.

A key issue was health insurance. Union officials said the contract offer doubles workers' contributions to their health insurance in the first year of the three-year deal and increases them another 15 per cent over the next two years.

Under the expired contract, the workers paid about $26 per week for family coverage, both sides said.

David Cadden, a management professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, said the result of Sunday's union vote was a clear victory for Sikorsky's management.