Northrop Grumman unions mull contract offer

Published 7:17 pm Thursday, March 1, 2007

Members of 13 unions representing employees at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems are considering a new contract offer from the shipbuilder.

The present four-year contract expires Sunday.

The new deal would run until March 2011.

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Highlights from the company’s latest offer include:

— $1.40 per hour raise on March 4 followed by two raises of 55 cents each on July 2008 and November 2009. That increase would raise a journeyman’s base pay from $38,106 a year to $43,306 a year, according to the company.

— The four-day work week will continue as an agreement between workers and the company.

— Health care premiums would increase from $144 a month to no more than $217 a month by November 2009.

— The cost of health care for retirees would increase from $175 per month to $225, the first such an increase since 1990, the company said.

— Retirement benefits would increase by $80 a month.

All 13 unions will meet this week to vote on the package either Thursday or Friday at the National Guard Armory in Pascagoula.

Larry Ludgood, business manager of the Boilermakers Local 693, the largest of the 13 unions, said workers were in “an angry mood. It’s a very disappointed mood,” primarily over the issue of wages.

“We didn’t expect to be treated that way on wages,” Ludgood said.

In a prepared statement, company officials called the final offer “fair” and showed gratitude for the workers, but will not comment further until votes are taken.

“This contract is for people who don’t have anything and don’t plan on getting anything,” said union painter Andrea Ratliff, after hearing her union representative’s talk.

She said that increases the company proposes in health care insurance costs would take too much away from the raise that’s being offered.

If the vote is close, the federal mediator will likely extend the contract and bring the negotiators back to the bargaining table. But if an overwhelming majority votes it down, there’s the possibility of a strike.

“I have my strike sanctions in place already,” said Benny Wallace, representative with the machinists independent union. “I have the ability to put up pickets if it’s turned down by two-thirds of the membership.”

Wallace said his workers aren’t happy with the company’s proposal, and they aren’t the type to talk one way and vote another.

It was the small machinists’ independent union that led the three-week strike at Ingalls Shipyard in 1999. Wallace represents about 370 machinists.

Mississippi is a right-to-work state, which means a worker doesn’t have to belong to a union to be technically represented by one. For example, when the sheet metal workers union negotiates a raise, it will apply to sheet metal workers at the shipyard whether they are union members or not. However, only union members get to vote on whether the raise negotiated is acceptable or not.