Hundreds strike over contract dispute with ULA
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) union employed by United Launch Alliance (ULA) voted to strike after rejecting a contract offer presented by the launch service provider.
ULA, which builds and launches Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, employs nearly 2,500 people. Of that, about 600 are members of the IAM and are located in three locations: Decatur, Alabama; Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center, Florida; and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The IAM threatened to picket all three locations in the event of a strike, which started at 12:01 a.m. May 7, 2018.
“Our members have delivered the reliability and experience that has helped United Launch Alliance create a world-class U.S. space program,” said Machinists Union International President Robert Martinez Jr. in a statement issued by the union. “The Machinists Union members at ULA connect the world with our beautiful universe. This strike is centered around many issues, but above all has amplified the message that our members want to be valued and respected in the workplace. The full force of 600,000 Machinists Union members across North America stand with our members at ULA.”
While the union had formally recommended that workers reject the contract, the final decision was up to the workers themselves. They voted May 6, 2018, the day after ULA launched an Atlas V with NASA’s InSight Mars lander bound for the Red Planet, to either accept or reject the proposed contract. Because members voted to reject the contract, a further vote was held to authorize a strike.
According to Kevin DiMeco, an organizer for IAM at Cape Canaveral, the issues involved are non-economic and specifically have to do with mandatory travel to any ULA location with little notice for extended periods of up to 30 days, no-notice mandatory overtime. DiMeco told SpaceFlight Insider that ULA is increasingly displacing employees with subcontractors. ULA, however, said it has no intention of displacing workers via subcontracting and it guaranteed that in writing as part of its “last, best and final offer.”
DiMeco said the IAM hopes to not impact any launches, but demands ULA make travel a voluntary option, eliminate no-notice mandatory overtime, and promise not to replace union members with sub-contractors.
According to a statement issued last week by Chief of Staff and Aerospace Negotiator Jody Bennett, ULA’s offer did not do enough to respect the workers who had made ULA, “the absolute safest company in the aerospace industry.” The IAM negotiating team expressed its willingness to meet with ULA further before the vote, but ULA made it clear its offer was final.
“We’re disappointed that the IAM members rejected ULA’s last, best and final offer and voted to strike,” said ULA president and CEO Tory Bruno in a company-released statement. “We believe our proposed contract is very competitive with other companies. Importantly, ULA’s final offer contributes to ULA’s long term viability in an increasingly competitive launch business environment.”
ULA said it and the union have been negotiating “in good faith” since April 16, 2018. On its website, ULA said its contract offer was “above market and unlike anything offered by our competitors, providing our skilled workforce with increases in nearly every element of the contract.” The company has created a webpage to answer frequent worker questions and for potential strikers to calculate expected pay losses.
Jessica Rye, a ULA spokesperson, told SpaceFlight Insider via an email that the company has implemented its “strike contingency plan” and is on track to support the its next launch, the Parker Solar Probe for NASA on July 31, 2018. What those contingency plans are specifically, however, was not explained.
“Per our plan, we will complete final processing of that vehicle with trained and experienced employees following established procedures and quality standards,” Rye said.
This story was updated at 7:30 p.m. EDT (23:30 GMT) May 8, 2018, to include information provided by IAM organizer Kevin DiMeco as well as ULA spokesperson Jessica Rye.
Christopher Paul has had a lifelong interest in spaceflight. He began writing about his interest in the Florida Tech Crimson. His primary areas of interest are in historical space systems and present and past planetary exploration missions. He lives in Kissimmee, Florida, and also enjoys cooking and photography. Paul saw his first Space Shuttle launch in 2005 when he moved to central Florida to attend classes at the Florida Institute of Technology, studying space science, and has closely followed the space program since. Paul is especially interested in the renewed effort to land crewed missions on the Moon and to establish a permanent human presence there. He has covered several launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral for space blogs before joining SpaceFlight Insider in mid-2017.