NORTH HAVEN, Conn. – More than 5,000 Machinists Union members working at the Pratt and Whitney division of United Technologies Corporation, the largest manufacturer in Connecticut, voted by an overwhelming 84 percent Dec. 2 to reject the company’s final offer and go on strike.

Picket lines at the East Hartford, Middletown, Cheshire and North Haven plants began immediately and are attracting wide support and solidarity.

Job security is the main issue, along with retirement security, and the company’s unfair labor practices during negotiations. Weeks of discussions and spontaneous demonstrations of anger and determination on the shop floor strengthened the workers’ resolve.

In the last three years, 1,800 hourly jobs were cut at Connecticut Pratt jet engine plants, and moved to non-union facilities in other states and countries. Since 1991 more than 8,000 hourly jobs were eliminated.

Meanwhile, the earnings per share of UTC increased an average 22 percent a year. Revenues for last year were $26.6 billion.

CEO George David made more than $23 million in 2000. IAM District 91 developed a “GrowCT” campaign, which revealed that each aerospace job creates 3.9 additional jobs in the state. The study concluded that loss of Pratt and Whitney jobs ultimately leave more than 32,000 people jobless.

“Whether UTC invests in Connecticut – or exits it – will have a profound impact on our state, our communities, and our kids’ future,” union leaders emphasized.

“This is your defining moment as a union,” said Gary Allen, IAM national aerospace coordinator, during the strike vote.

Union members cheered East Hartford union president Mike Stone as he said, “We can either die on the vine or fight to grow jobs in the state of Connecticut. Nothing is won without sacrifice. It’s our time to sacrifice.”

Last year, the company disregarded contract language forbidding any parts repair work to be moved during the life of the contract. They moved equipment that would eliminate 500 jobs at the North Haven plant.

The union went to court and won. Trucks with equipment were forced to turn around on their way to Texas and head back to Connecticut, as workers interrupted their day with cheers.

During negotiations, the union battled successfully to keep current job security protections in the contract. But the future was in jeopardy. Pratt wanted hundreds of production jobs waived from job security measures, promising to exchange them “one for one” with new F119 engine work.

“They don’t need to move anything out,” said Jim Parent, District 91 directing business representative, pointing to the promises made and not kept by the company in the past.

The average age of hourly workers at Pratt is 49, and the average length of service is 23 years. These highly skilled workers are angry about constant job threats from a profitable company. They also are angry at the limited retirement package the company has offered.

“I don’t know of any recent Pratt retirees who are actually retired,” one member said, “They’re working at Walmart and Stop & Shop to make ends meet.”

During negotiations, the company claimed without substantiation that it costs $150 an hour for production work in East Hartford, making it worthwhile to move to low wage shops around the world.

The company also refused to provide a list of vendors to which hundreds of jobs are subcontracted. As it became clear that the workers were holding firm for a strike vote, a rumor was circulated through the shops that the government won’t allow the strike because of the war.

“Our fight is for America,” the union responded in a statement to members. “A strike will not hinder the military; they have plenty of supplies. But if we don’t fight to keep our jobs here the next generation will have nowhere to work.”

After walking the picket line in East Hartford, District 91 staff member John Harrity said, “I thought about the history of that moment – the first picket line at East Hartford in 41 years! Sixteen years since the last strike in North Haven, Cheshire and Middletown! And what did people say last night on the line? ‘It’s about time.’ Nobody wants the hardship of a strike. But what courage! So much strength. The people who make the products and the profit [are] saying, “Enough is Enough.’”