The largest employer in the Wiregrass saw its employees go on strike Monday, limiting military training flights at Fort Rucker and sending almost 3,000 workers home.
Workers at Army Fleet Support in Daleville, represented by the International Association of Machinists Local 2003, voted overwhelmingly Sunday night to reject the latest contract offer from parent company L-3 Communications and began a work stoppage Monday morning. (Click here to see a copy of the proposed contract)
Striking workers were assigned picket shifts Monday. A handful held signs near each entrance to Fort Rucker.
“It’s not about money,” AFS worker Bob Bowman said Monday morning while holding strike signs near the Daleville gate entrance to Fort Rucker.
Bowman said he voted to strike due to “contract language” but declined to elaborate on the specific language he opposed.
“We just want to be treated with respect,” Bowman said.
AFS worker and Enterprise resident Jason Boling said local residents who oppose the strike because they believe AFS workers earn a reasonable wage don’t have the information AFS workers have.
“A lot of guys that work out there, they’re veterans. They’ve gone to school, taken the time and the initiative to try to better themselves,” Boling said.
Later Monday morning, union representatives came to the site where workers were picketing and told them not to speak to the media, other than to refer inquiries to the IAM Local 2003 office.
In an interview Monday evening, union representatives outlined what workers sought from a new contract and their concerns with the contract offered by L-3.
Jim Cotter, a local union representative said hours and available manpower were a big concern to union members. Cotter said the company had laid off many workers recently, but had not reduced its workload. Cotter said the amount of hours workers are having to put in is unsustainable.
Bob Wood, a regional communications representative for the union, said training was also a big concern for union members. Wood said members feel the company is not providing adequate training for the various tasks they are being asked to perform.
Wood also said language in the contract about seniority, transfers and other conditions were also problematic.
Wood said all the ins and outs of the contract and what needs to be fixed to make it palatable to the union would likely seem arcane to the public.
“A lot of this is inside baseball kind of stuff,” he said.
Wood said much of the dispute boiled down to union members wanting to be treated with respect by the company.
“These are highly trained professionals with a fantastic safety record,” he said.
L-3/AFS executives released a statement to local media Monday afternoon. The statement read:
“On Sunday, April 27, 2014, the membership of IAM Local Lodge 2003 voted to reject the company offer for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and went on strike at midnight, in spite of the union’s Negotiating Committee unanimously recommending acceptance of the company offer. A commissioner from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is in route and plans to meet with the parties to identify the issues and help determine the best course of action to resolve the labor dispute. L-3 is working closely with our customer to ensure we provide the best possible aviation logistical support to the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force institutional training on Fort Rucker during this period.”
Meanwhile, Enterprise Mayor Kenneth Boswell said Monday the strike will have a definite negative financial impact on Enterprise and other communities that border Fort Rucker. Boswell also said the strike could affect the entire Wiregrass, especially if it lingers.
“We hope this is a short-term situation,” Boswell said. “My hope is that good heads will prevail and that an agreement can be reached that will be beneficial to both the company and its workers. Naturally, we stand by ready to offer help if the need should arise.”
Striking workers will receive some money from the union during the strike, but it amounts to only a portion of the workers’ regular salaries.
The strike has basically grounded helicopter training at Fort Rucker. Army Fleet Support has provided helicopter maintenance and service to Fort Rucker for several years. Its most recent contract award for helicopter maintenance at Fort Rucker was almost $2 billion from 2012 through September of 2017.
The strike is already having a ripple effect. The Mobile-based Teamsters Local 991, which represents UPS drivers and other delivery drivers in the local area, said Monday it would not deliver beyond striking workers. A UPS spokesperson said later Monday arrangements are being made to deliver to affected locations.
In a press release sent around 6:45 p.m., Fort Rucker’s Public Affairs Office had this to say:
“Fort Rucker is not a party to the current labor dispute. The dispute is a matter between AFS and its employees. However, this dispute is impacting our ability to train aviators.
Currently there are no changes to access control measures at the gates to the installation and no other impacts to operations on Fort Rucker.”
The strike is the first in more than 30 years by IAM 2003.