MARIETTA, GA. -- Machinists union members voted Tuesday on whether to accept a revised contract proposal as the clock ticked down toward a strike deadline at Lockheed Martin's aeronautics plant.
More than 4,200 workers, representing a range of employees including clerical, firefighters and aircraft mechanics, began voting before dawn at the Local 709 of the International Association of Machinists. No results were expected until less than three hours before the scheduled walkout.
"If they turn the contract down, then at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow, we'll be on strike," said Larry Gable, vice president of Local 709 of the International Association of Machinists. "It's sort of like sudden death."
Gable said it was difficult to predict the vote's outcome. Members voting Tuesday said they had agreed not to discuss the contract proposal until after the results were announced.
"We think they have a fair contract to vote on today, with generous economic provisions," said Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Susan Miles. "The modifications that were made addressed specific concerns (of) the union membership."
She said there is a small "graveyard shift" at the plant, which has some 9,200 employees total. Machinists had "On Strike" signs and picket assignments ready.
Lockheed Martin, the largest employer in Cobb County northwest of Atlanta, manufactures the C-130J military cargo plane and is the lead developer of the F-22 stealth fighter jet. The last strike at the plant was in 1977.
The union leadership had negotiated a deal that provided for three annual raises of 3 percent, but rank and file members disliked health and retirement benefits and work schedule changes in the contract. Job security was also a concern at the plant, which has been under pressure to cut costs.
In voting Feb. 28, Machinists overwhelmingly rejected the contract and authorized a strike.
The two sides met into the evening Monday in federally mediated talks, and the company's changes included dropping proposals on job classification combinations that raised concerns among members that jobs would be lost. The company also dropped a proposal for a four-day workweek for some shifts, which union members had said would cause child-care problems for some workers and also reduce overtime opportunities.
Their average pay was between $18 and $19 an hour in the last contract, but union members said the pay increase wasn't a major issue.
An initial strike deadline, set for Sunday, was delayed three days after the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service called on both sides to meet Monday, saying a "substantial interruption of commerce" would be created by a strike at the military aircraft plant in Marietta.
Cobb business leaders were watching the situation anxiously.
"Obviously, Lockheed is a very integral part of the business community in Cobb County," said Bill Cooper, president of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. "We hope they can come to some sort of resolution. Nobody wants to see a strike."