Some Northrop Grumman strikers return to work

Published 7:43 pm Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More than 300 workers have crossed the picket line and returned to work at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, company spokesman Bill Glenn said.

Others say they would like to return as the strike enters its third week, but can’t afford to pay fines threatened by unions that represent the more than 6,500 workers on strike.

“I told my boss I wanted to cross the picket line,” Rebecca Barnes said. “A lot of us do. But I was told I’d have to pay anywhere between $500 and $1,000 in fines.”

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Barnes is a member of the carpenters union who has worked at the company’s Pascagoula shipyard for three years. With four children, she’s finding it hard to make do and recently lost her cable because she was $10 short.

She has no money for her bills, let alone fines from the union. She has not appeared on the picket line despite the offer of $100 a week and groceries from her union.

“All those people who are out there dancing and barbecuing probably have FEMA, or grant money or income tax, something,” Barnes said. “But I live paycheck to paycheck, and it’s time to go back to work. Don’t make other people suffer for the stupidity of a strike.”

The strike began March 8 after employees in 14 of 15 unions struck down a second contract offer that included a $2.50 raise. The two sides have met just twice at the request of a federal mediator.

Employees are holding out for more money and a better insurance plan that includes vision and dental care. Company workers in Gulfport and Louisiana approved their new contracts.

Barnes and Gatha Stribling, another shipyard worker, said they plan to leave their unions when the strike is over.

Stribling works for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 733. She also would like to cross the picket line, but is deterred by the potential of a fine. She said unions need to let workers return to their jobs without fines.

“I’ve got to get my bills paid,” Stribling said. “A lot of us want to go back, but we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m paying them a little here and a little there, but the money’s running out.”