EAST HARTFORD, CONN. - "Don't Screw with Letter 22," was the angry chant of hundreds of Machinist union members and their supporters Tuesday at a contract rally for job security in front of the IAM Lodge 1746 plant, across from Pratt & Whitney's sprawling main production facility.
The decades old battle for job security escalated last week after a month of contract negotiations, when the company proposed doing away with nearly all the language in Letter 22 which requires the company to work with the union to "make every reasonable effort" to preserve jobs in Connecticut rather than move them out of state.
On Sunday, the 3,400 workers will gather at Oakdale Theater in Wallingford to vote on whether they will accept the contract or go on strike. This week of negotiations is crucial.
The job security language was won after a hard fought battle in 1993. The contract was reopened a year early at that time. Workers gave top priority to job security language and compromised with wages and benefits to get it.
Within the language the company now wants to delete is the commitment to maintain bargaining unit jobs in Cheshire, a plant that is slated to be moved to Singapore or Japan.
"IAM members at Pratt fought hard, and sacrificed millions of dollars to win our contract's job security language," says the rally flier.
When the company tried to violate the contract last year and close the Cheshire plant and CARO repair operations within the East Hartford facility, the union waged two successful court battles that kept the work in Connecticut during the life of the contract.
Now that battle has moved to the bargaining table, and the company is arrogantly sticking to its plan to move production "anywhere but Connecticut."
"This is not just about Cheshire. This is not about CARO. This is about each and every one of you. If we don't hang together, we're going down. I'll be damned if I go down," said David Durbin Sr., president of the Machinists local in Middletown.
Workers not immediately affected by the jobs targeted to be moved remember how Pratt & Whitney, a division of the highly profitable United Technologies Company (UTC), closed plants in North Haven, Southington and Rocky Hill. They know that they could be next, and see this as a fight for survival.
There is much discussion among the workers on the shop floor about the importance of Letter 22. The Local 700 newsletter at the Middletown plant recalls how the company was stopped by court order in 2000 from moving some operations to Texas when District Court Judge Janet Hall ruled that the company "understood its obligations but decisively attempted to evade them."
The rally on Tuesday sent a strong message to the company that workers are not going to give up. The union is fully prepared in the event of a strike. Each of the three locals has announced their picket line assignments. The United Labor Agency is preparing to help with food and other needs in the event of a strike. In Middletown, many local businesses, which depend on Pratt workers as customers, have agreed to display posters in support of the union struggle to maintain their jobs.
Photo: Machinist Union members and supporters rally for job security and a new contract at a plant-gate rally in East Hartford, Conn. Tom Connolly.