Machinists stop Pratt & Whitney from moving jobs

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Emotions ran high at the International Association of Machinists Local 1746 union hall Saturday morning as union leaders announced details of a court victory blocking Pratt and Whitney from moving work and equipment affecting 1,000 jobs.

While workers know their fight is not over, tears of joy filled the hall, located across the street from the main P&W plant, owned by United Technologies. The precedent-setting nature of the decision and the fact that 83,000 jobs have been lost in Connecticut in the last two years added to the significance of the moment.

The company violated its contract with the union by preparing to move operations to Georgia, Singapore and Japan without making a good faith effort to find other solutions, according to U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall. In an 85-page decision she issued a permanent injunction on the company’s restructuring plan during the term of the collective bargaining agreement, which expires on Dec. 10, 2010.

The Machinists union has waged countless battles for job security over several decades, and won model language requiring the company to make every reasonable effort to preserve the work in Connecticut, and to explore alternatives with union representatives.

When P&W announced last July that it would close its airfoil unit in East Hartford and a repair plant in Cheshire, a 45-day “meet and confer” process began. Even after $80 million in wage cuts and other savings were offered by the workers, and after $100 million over five years was offered by the State of Connecticut, the company still refused to consider any alternative to moving the work out of state.

In September, IAM District 26 filed a lawsuit to halt the company’s plans, arguing that P&W and United Technologies had obviously made up their mind prior to negotiations.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Chris Dodd, had submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the union’s position. He argued in court that enforcement of the contract was of overriding importance to the people of Connecticut.

“We have a big job ahead of us now, securing these jobs in the next contract,” said Jim Parent, IAM District 26 assistant directing business representative. “We’re ready for a fight, if that’s what it takes.”

Congratulating the union for making the legal challenge, Congressman John Larsen (CT-01) said, “I strongly urge Pratt & Whitney not to appeal this decision, but to work with the union, the congressional delegation and the state to help keep these jobs in Connecticut for the long term.”

On Saturday morning, labor and community leaders, friends and supporters gathered with the union members to learn of the decision and celebrate the outcome. Elected officials agreed that the decision sets a legal precedent that will help workers for years to come.

In 1999 the IAM won a similar suit to save parts repair work in the East Hartford plant. In a dramatic result, trucks on their way to Texas had to turn around and replace the equipment in the East Hartford plant, where the work continues today.

The September lawsuit was filed at the same time that the Connecticut AFL-CIO was in convention. Bringing its case to the convention floor, the union argued for support for enforcement of labor standards in trade agreements, including the TRADE Act now before Congress.

IAM leader Bill Shortell said this latest attempt to take a third of the remaining workforce out of the state and country by a profitable company receiving government contracts shows the need for “legislative tools …The multinationals have no nation. The Trade Act must be passed. Corporations must be controlled,” he said.

Photo: Courtesy IAM