Machinists confront corporate greed at Hamilton Sundstrand

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. – Workers at Hamilton Sundstrand, an aerospace subsidiary of the profitable United Technologies Corp., are fighting company plans to eliminate 214 Connecticut jobs this year, shrinking the unionized workforce by more than 20 percent.

“It is clear that the company does not want to have machining, fabrication and electronics production operations in the United States anymore,” says Mark Hebert, president of the International Association of Machinists Local Lodge 743, which represents workers at Hamilton. “Their charge has been to send the work to the lowest bidder anywhere in the world.”

The union has been conferring with the company for protections for those left on the job, and for the best possible severance package for those who choose to retire. “We tried to negotiate ways for the work to remain here,” said Hebert, “but it was clear from the start that management closed off that option before they ever told us the news.”

The layoffs come in the wake of a two year struggle by the Machnists union at Pratt & Whitney over the closing of two Connecticut facilities employing more than 1,100 workers. A broad-based coalition spearheaded by Grow Jobs CT plus tough negotiating saved the jobs of workers who did not take early retirement. However, the plants are shutting down, eliminating job opportunities for future workers at Connecticut’s largest private employer.

This textbook example of raw, corporate greed underscores the need for legislation that prohibits or makes it more expensive to move jobs to other countries, workers’ advocates say.

Workers at Hamilton and United Technology’s Pratt & Whitney division have seen an unrelenting exodus of work from Connecticut over the past twenty years, despite billions in taxpayer dollars going to the corporate giant. The Machinists have fought tooth and nail against the tide.

United Technology’s net profits for the first quarter are up 17 percent from a year ago, on track to exceed $4 billion in 2011. Chief Financial Officer Greg Hayes predicts profits will be above projections.

The company’s Hamilton and Pratt divisions both enjoy double digit profit margins. For the last quarter of 2010, spare part orders for commercial airline jet engines at Pratt & Whitney jumped 45 percent and by 31 percent at Hamilton Sundstrand.

Two huge military contracts were recently awarded to Pratt when Congress voted to cut off funding for a second, alternative engine from GE for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, leaving Pratt as the sole source.  Pratt also supplies the engines for the Boeing Air Force tanker, a contract awarded this year following a protracted competition with Airbus.

Machinists union members’ smiles were understandably thin at the company-staged celebration of the F-35 contract this week. The Machinists’ union has a long history of speaking out against reliance on defense-related contracts, to which the Connecticut economy has been held hostage. Though 40 years of future work are promised, workers have learned through bitter experience how quickly federal funding can be revoked, and how readily UTC shifts production elsewhere.

At a recent AFL-CIO legislative conference, delegates expressed solidarity with Hamilton Sundstrand workers facing layoffs.  The turnout of 5,000 people on May 1 at the State Capitol to stop the war on workers shows a growing movement prepared to take on corporate greed in defense of public and private sector workers. 

In Connecticut, this struggle opens the possibility of demands for a new economy based on contracts for alternative energy production such as wind turbines and solar panels that can provide jobs and a safe environment for future generations.  As the saying goes, “It takes a fight to win.”

Image: United Technology workers protest outsourcing at plant gate rally in 2010. Tom Connolly/PW


Joelle Fishman
Joelle Fishman

Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is a Commissioner on the City of New Haven Peace Commission, serves on the executive board of the Alliance of Retired Americans in Connecticut and is an active member of many economic rights and social justice organizations. As chair of the CPUSA Political Action Commission, she has played an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights and peace.