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General Dynamics
On Strike

Union workers go on strike at General Dynamics in Marion

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Aaron Bennett, Frances Hafley, Wendy Arnett and Lawrence Pierce spent four hours of their Fourth of July outside Marion’s General Dynamics plant, reminding passersby that workers who are members of United Auto Workers Local 2850 are on strike.

That Monday was a holiday didn’t keep union members from maintaining a presence outside of General Dynamics’ Marion plants. Portable sun shelters dotted key points along Brunswick Lane as the strikers made their presence evident. Their signs were simple: UAW on strike.

Alan Keesee stopped at each one, checking in on the people and making sure that they had drinks and ice in the day’s heat. Keesee, who’s worked for General Dynamics for 33 years, also serves as the president of United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) Local 2850.

The UAW and the company, an aerospace and defense corporation, negotiated for four weeks until 11:59 Friday night, Keesee said. While a tentative agreement was in place, the UAW membership rejected it.

Keesee indicated that several issues are of concern. He pointed to the cost of living, including gas prices, and said it’s been five years since a new contract was put in place.

General Dynamics’ workers, he said, bring skilled labor to the company that supplies parts to the government and government contractors.

According to the company website, General Dynamics Mission Systems “provides mission-critical solutions to the challenges facing defense, intelligence and cyber security customers across all domains.”

It also says, “We build products and deliver technology for platforms like combat vehicles, submarines, aircraft, satellites and advanced systems that can sense danger, quickly act on threats and share lifesaving information.”

Keesee said the union members take pride in their work that supports the country, but that the company has fallen behind. In the 1980s and ’90s, he said, General Dynamics was the number one place to be and the workers want that to be true again.

“We’re trying to fight for what is right,” Keesee said.

One union member pointed to General Dynamics’ financial performance last year, saying the company has the money to improve compensation.

A Jan. 26 General Dynamics statement said that the company “today reported quarterly net earnings of $952 million… on $10.3 billion in revenue. For the full year, net earnings were $3.3 billion… on revenue of $38.5 billion.”

The report highlighted: “Record-high revenue and operating earnings from the collective defense segments for the year.”

Keesee said he didn’t know when talks might resume, but said, “We’re open for negotiations 24/7. We’re willing to go back to the table any time.”

Some longer-term Union members reflected on the last strike in Marion in 2008, which extended over two months with heightened tensions. Criminal charges were filed in at least two incidents.

Last Thursday evening at a special called meeting of the Marion Town Council to wrap up fiscal year business, Police Chief John Clair told the elected leaders that the department had made preparations for the strike.

Strike activity intensified Tuesday morning as work resumed. Union members said representatives of the UAW International office were expected to be in Marion by Tuesday morning.

Mid-morning Tuesday, Clair said activity was peaceful, orderly, and “utterly respectful” at the plants when operations resumed. He estimated that about 100 strikers were on the picket lines early Tuesday.

The MPD will continue to have a presence, Clair said, reflecting that “time and heat can bring tension to anything.”

Earlier this month, according to a UAW news release, it has increased its weekly strike pay for members from $275 per week to $400 per week. Eligibility for weekly benefits begins on the eighth day of a strike. In addition, the UAW eliminated a provision that a member may not receive UAW strike benefits if the member received unemployment benefits.

According to its materials, “UAW-represented workplaces range from multinational corporations, small manufacturers and state and local governments to colleges and universities, hospitals and private non-profit organizations.”

There are more than 600 local unions in the UAW.

As of press time, General Dynamics Mission Systems had not responded to a request for comment, but had told other area media that were disappointed that an agreement couldn’t be reached but would continue to work toward one.


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