KENT – Machinists Union members – many of them Boeing Co. employees – are picketing today in front of a company that provides aerospace parts.
The union members have mounted an informational picket outside Hytek Finishes, at 8127 S. 216th St. in Kent. Close to 200 volunteers have signed up to man the pickets in shifts between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The picket is informational in nature and isn’t necessarily a sign a strike is imminent, said Kevin Cummings, a representative of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers who is leading the union bargaining team. In fact, are underway today.
“Our members are here on their own time to support for our fellow Machinists, who are having a hard time getting management at Hytek to negotiate a fair contract,” said Cummings. “We want them to know that they’re not alone in this fight.”
The union represents about 175 workers at Hytek. They voted in August by a 2-to-1 margin to join Machinists Union District Lodge 751, which also represents hourly workers at Boeing.
Talks began in October and have become increasingly contentious. The union in February filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Hytek’s managers of deliberately violating the workers’ rights under federal labor law.
The Machinists at Hytek do metal finishing and metal plating on aerospace parts. Their work makes the parts – each of them worth thousands of dollars — perform better and last longer. Boeing, Lockheed and Bell Helicopters are major customers, and Hytek is an important supplier for the Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter.
The union says the workers have asked for improvements in three major areas for the Hytek workers: safety, pay and benefits.
On the safety front, the union points out Hytek workers routinely handle more than 100 different toxic or cancer-causing materials. Hytek management provides workers with basic safety equipment, but union health-and-safety experts have identified many areas for improvement.
On pay, the union says Hytek’s average salary of $16 an hour is far below the market rate for manufacturing workers in Washington, which is $31.15 an hour according to the state’s Department of Employment Security, which tracks the pay of hourly manufacturing workers from aerospace to forest products to food processing.
In addition, some workers say they’ve been blocked year-after-year from raises or promotions, due to the complex process for raises and promotions at Hytek.
Finally, Hytek’s health insurance benefits are as bad as Wal-Mart’s, the union says. Workers face up to $7,200 a year in out-of-pocket health care costs before their benefits kick in, and the union says a number of Hytek workers have been forced to declare bankruptcy because their insurance didn’t fully cover the hospital bills after their children were born.
“We don’t think parenthood should be a luxury reserved for the wealthy few,” said Cummings. “We proposed alternative health care plans that would have provided the workers with better coverage – and cost Hytek less money – but management wasn’t interested.”
The Machinists say they’ve proposed alternatives to address the safety and pay issues too, but so far, Hytek management hasn’t been interested.
“As Machinists, we know how to work with aerospace companies to make them successful – just ask Boeing,” Cummings said. “But we also know how to fight for our members, so that they can have a better quality of life. That’s why we’re here today.”
Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at Boeing, District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 31,000 working men and women across Washington, Oregon and California. In December, District 751 members ratified a four-year contract extension with Boeing that ensured the 737 MAX will be built in Puget Sound.