The Machinists Union shares a more than six decade legacy with Fort Rucker Army Base. The men and
women who have made this post a leader of aviation excellence share a sense of pride in their work. IAM Local 2003 members maintain the helicopters used to train U.S. Army pilots operating worldwide.
Recently, the IAM ratified a new, strong three-year agreement between Local 2003 and M1 Support Services at Fort Rucker in Alabama for approximately 3,500 members who perform aircraft maintenance and flight support at M1.
The accord includes many improvements such as annual wage increases, the continuation of $5 per hour contributions to the IAM National Pension Fund (IAMNPF), and $2 per hour contributions over the life of the agreement to a new 401(k) plan, while maintaining their healthcare.
Other improvements include an increased vacation schedule for all members, new premiums for commercial drivers’ license holders, lead pay, and non-destructive
With each ensuing contract, the Machinists Union has been steadily improving the livelihoods of its Fort Rucker members.
What This Contract Means to the Members
For Anthony Holton, a 22-year Local 2003 member, the new contract has positively affected him and his family by relieving the pressures of waiting in an uncertain economy.
“For my family, it has taken us to a position of stability,” said Holton. “We knew that we had set money, unlike a few years before, when we had the stress of a new contract vote. It helps relieve that uncertainty and fear. It has quieted the fears of the membership for basically the same reasons, and we know what tomorrow is going to bring at this point.”
Throughout Holton’s time at Fort Rucker, he has learned how and why a union is important for the membership. The stability it brings to a work environment, the ability to say no to something illegal, immoral or unsafe is a huge benefit.
“Knowing that there is a standard contract that everyone has to adhere to, myself included, is reassuring to the company and membership,” added Holton. “It gives us a standard at which to hold ourselves accountable. The union coming into Fort Rucker has provided a stable and reliable workforce that puts safety and honor above everything else.”
The IAM was able to attain many gains in this contract that ensure members will be able to provide for their families for years to come.
“The IAM has fought for equal rights and equality over the entire contract,” said Holton. “Implementing the 401(k) helps shore up our ability to retire and enjoy life on the backside of our career without the stresses of the uncertain.
Members believe in the leadership and their ability to speak for them, not only as a whole through the contracts but also as individuals on the floor and in the community. I believe we are going down a solid road in which we will forever be able to provide for each other, our families, and the soldiers of Fort Rucker.”
Renee Killings is also a proud member of Local Lodge 2003. Her union journey began in 2000, coming from the private sector into what is now her union, the IAM. It has been an eye-opening experience for her. She went from having an open relationship with management to shifting to a centralized, more personal collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
She and others with whom she works with closely feel this change has been for the better in multiple ways. Matters that used to be overlooked are now taken seriously. Being a single mother, her home life was just as important as this new representation. She was an average, dues-paying employee for years – not directly involved with the union until about 10 years ago, when she became a local shop steward.
“Two years ago, I was elected clerical GNC, which enabled me to help negotiate our last contract,” said Killings. “That position allowed me to gain union knowledge and how it operates, functions, and can better serve my fellow union brothers and sisters. I strongly feel that holding that position made me rise to the challenge of being a better employee
because I can see both sides of the operation.”
Killings and her fellow negotiating committee members have received compliments and gratitude for negotiating the Fort Rucker contract, which takes effect in May 2022. They look forward to incorporating the new changes with the old verbiage.
“The company now contributing to our 401(k) plan is unprecedented,” said Killings. “The membership was very pleased when this was implemented in our new collective bargaining agreement. As a negotiating committee member, we felt a sense of accomplishment once the agreement was overwhelmingly accepted. Moving forward, our new contract will surely surpass expectations.”
Fort Rucker’s surrounding area and culture have grown tremendously because of this contract. They now have a wide variety of ethnicities as well as genders. In 2000, women and people of color were sparse; however, their numbers are growing in both areas today.
“Because Fort Rucker’s areas are small, many family members can gain employment to better themselves and their families due to having such a great contract,” said Killings. “Fort Rucker and the Machinists Union have afforded many people great benefits, excellent salaries, and overall stability to help enrich their lives.”
Killings’ continued involvement in IAM District 75 has resulted in her being recently elected as District 75 Secretary-Treasurer.
Local 2003 President Shane Davis has seen much change since he initiated into the IAM in 2007. He has seen many difficult contract negotiations, but each ensuing contract battle resulted in better living conditions and respect for the members.
“In 2014, the company, unfortunately, came to the table with a less than stellar contract that the membership wanted no part of,” said Davis. “We overwhelmingly voted to go on strike, to the surprise of the contractor and, quite frankly, the entire community. It wasn’t for lack of effort from negotiating committee or anyone involved from the IAM. It was a message that was required to be sent to the company. The IAM would not stand for unfair treatment of our fellow brothers and sisters, nor would we stand for a lackluster contract. We made a few gains when we returned from the strike, but the message was clear; the membership wanted to be heard.”
In 2018, a new contractor was awarded the contract at Fort Rucker, M1 Support Services, and the IAM negotiating team had a huge task in bridging the previous contract with the new.
“I appreciate all the representatives whose tireless work resulted in the membership gaining improved contract language and economics that I’ve never seen in my time negotiating a contract,” said Davis.
In the subsequent years, the company improved workplace morale and grievances significantly decreased. The membership overwhelmingly voted to enter into negotiations early.
The negotiating committee brought a contract proposal to the membership that outdid the previous contract.
“None of this would be possible without a strong union and a company that sees the merits of taking care of a workforce that takes care of them,” said Davis. “My wife and I both are members of this great union. This strong contract will have a generational impact on our family and the membership families.
Why the IAM’s Aerospace Department is Placing an Increased Importance on 401(k) and Pension Plans in Negotiations
The IAM’s Aerospace Department is delivering a strong message to the companies they are currently negotiating with that they will be unwavering in improving retirement provisions for their members in upcoming contracts.
Some companies have pension benefits for the older members, but don’t have defined-benefit pensions for newer workers. Many of the major employers who had defined benefit pensions in the past now have no plan at all, while many are offering 401(k) plans.
During negotiations, the Aerospace Department works with many district and local lodges to target 401(k) plans and improve the employer contributions. Employers offer, on average, around 4% of annual income towards the employees’ 401(k) plan. This is insufficient compared to the savings enjoyed by the employers who phased out definedbenefit pensions.
“We need to continue to educate the membership on the importance of contributing personal funds into the 401(k) plan,” said IAM Aerospace General Vice President Mark Blondin.
In some cases, employer savings amount to several thousand dollars per year, per employee that the employer is no longer using for a defined benefit pension. They simply put the money in their pocket and take it from the membership.
The Aerospace Department seeks to convert these employer savings into employer contributions to their members’ 401(k) plans.
In some cases, more than 15% of annual pay would be the appropriate amount for companies to pay.
“The Aerospace Department’s obligation and commitment are to do all we can to secure a good retirement for all workers,” said Blondin. “During uncertain times, the generation of workers left behind in the ‘pension steal’ deserve contracts that help them secure their future. Since their inception, most companies have not paid their fair share into 401(k) plans. Times are going to change.”
“As with every negotiation, there are issues that each side feels are important to be addressed,” said IAM District 75 Business Representative Randy Garrett. “I feel that our Negotiating Committee did an excellent job of studying the membership surveys, talking one-on-one with the members they represent to identify and prioritize those issues, and with the help and support of Aerospace Chief of Staff Jody Bennett and Aerospace Coordinator Tony Wirth, we were successful in getting changes which met our member’s approval. Thanks to everyone at IAM Strategic Resources, Southern Territory, headquarters staff and the entire Aerospace Department for supporting us.”
The IAM is sponsoring the Southern Maryland Aces 9-and-under travel baseball team. The sponsorship helps bring down costs for players’ families and ensure that no child is unable to play because of expenses.
Expenses include insurance, field permits, uniforms, equipment, tournament fees, league fees and umpires.
“These funds will be utilized to help offset player expenses, which keeps play fee at a reasonable price to ensure that a financial burden doesn’t prevent a player from playing,” said Team Manager/Head Coach Jason Murray in a thank you letter to the Machinists Union.
The kids on this team have been playing baseball together since they were four- and five-year-olds in Little League. There was no team for them to join after Little League to continue to grow together as a team. They would have been separated onto different recreational teams.
“I personally wanted to start this team because I didn’t want the team to split as they get older…My goals go beyond baseball. I would like to teach them hard work, perseverance, self-control and grit. Sometimes life is hard, but not giving up and working for a cause will build a way better future, not only for them but for the community around them,” said Murray in his thank you letter.
“It’s important for the IAM to be involved in our local communities. IAM members live throughout the Southern Maryland,” said IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. “We want to make sure we do what we can to support the small things that make a big difference – like sponsoring a youth baseball team that has been together since they first started playing. The small things are important; they are what helps build community.”
Featured image:IAM Local 2379 Recording Secretary Brian Urban, in sunglasses with a black jacket and green shirt, attends a funeral for fallen Ukrainian soldiers.
Since the war in Ukraine began in February, IAM Local 2379 (District 160) Recording Secretary Brian Urban has taken two trips to the war-torn country, spending more than a month total providing humanitarian aid to those in need.
Urban’s efforts, in conjunction with other volunteers, non-profit organizations and the Ukrainian people, have focused on transporting refugees to safety, providing medical supplies and training, and distributing other critical supplies such as encrypted radios.
Urban estimates he has helped transport nearly 2,000 people, mostly women and children, across the Ukrainian border into Poland and Romania. He’s even helped expose human trafficking of refugees and alert authorities of those in danger.
Like others providing aid in Ukraine, Urban, 42, has witnessed firsthand the dangerous reality of working in a war zone—and he’s no stranger to it. Before taking an IAM job at Alcoa Intalco Works in Ferndale, WA, a community where he lives and where the IAM is working to restore critical aluminum smelter jobs, Urban had worked as a civilian contractor in conflict zones around the world.
In Lviv, a rocket exploded only 500 yards away from him.
“The opposition was targeting any humanitarian aid – any ambulances, any transport for refugees,” said Urban. “If there was a military vehicle and an ambulance, [the opposition] would hit the ambulance first.”
Urban traveled with a friend, Gerri, who found a man and a woman gravely injured by landmines in a field. With tourniquets and other donated medical supplies in hand, Gerri risked his own safety to go into the minefield and bring them to safety.
The woman survived but lost multiple limbs. The man passed away.
“When the opposition forces pull out of an area, they are using landmines and grenades, booby traps and nails in the roads—whatever they can do to inflict as much damage and pain as they can,” said Urban. “If we didn’t have eyes on something the whole time, we didn’t touch it.”
Urban credits support from his family and the community, including his fellow IAM Local 2379 members, for making the humanitarian trips possible through donations.
“I’m always amazed to see my Brothers and Sisters come together—it’s no different whether it’s Ukraine or someone who got injured at work,” said Urban. “I’m just blown away by their generosity and compassion.”
Local 2379’s Luke Ackerson, now a District 160 Business Representative, had instilled that spirit of giving, said Urban.
“It was a mindset that Luke had set for us in our Local,” said Urban. “I’m very proud to think back and realize that the IAM is supportive of that kind of stuff. It’s not just a one-time thing, it’s a cultural thing.”
“Brother Brian’s efforts to help the Ukrainian people are nothing short of heroic,” said IAM Western Territory General Vice President Gary R. Allen. “The IAM Western Territory, District 160 and Local 2379 are so proud to support Brian and his mission to deliver aid and comfort to people in need.”
The IAM is also engaged with labor allies in Ukraine and around the world to help provide aid, restore peace and preserve workers’ and human rights.
“The IAM will always stand with the people of Ukraine and for freedom and democracy,” said IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr., who recently had a call with Ukrainian labor leaders. “Our entire union will always be grateful for Brian’s bravery and determination to help our Ukrainian Brothers and Sisters.”
Urban also thanks his family—his wife, Stacia, two sons, Austen and Jordan, and a daughter, Elizabeth—for supporting and blessing his trips.
It is those on the ground, seeing their homeland under siege in Ukraine, whom Urban has grown to admire and respect immensely.
“It’s complete and utter destruction,” said Urban.
He marvels at seeing both the “absolute best” and the “absolute worst of mankind” in Ukraine.
While providing aid across the country, Ukrainians have offered Urban the last of their little bit of food out of gratitude for his help.
“It’s so humbling and it’s so amazing,” said Urban. “They have opened their arms for help, but they definitely don’t want a handout.”
The Ukrainians he has worked with, both with and without combat experience, “are second to none,” Urban said.
“I love them to death,” said Urban. “They are amazingly brave. If I pushed forward, they were right there with me.”
And Urban plans to go to Ukraine again. After telling his father that he was planning a third trip, his dad asked him if he had “left something [in Ukraine].”
“Workers everywhere are looking for protections that only a union can give them,” said IAM Midwest Territory General Vice President Steve Galloway. “Reaching a first contract is really the ultimate win of an organizing campaign.” Improving lives is at the heart of organizing, fighting for higher pay, better benefits and job security. But, removing barriers has been challenging, especially from 2017 through 2020. With each change in federal government administration, workers can get caught in the middle. According to a 2019 report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), employers are charged with violating federal law in 41.5% of all union election campaigns.
“That’s unacceptable,” said Galloway. “We need to reduce that number to zero to make sure union representation elections are fair and adhere to the letter of the law.” In 2021, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) handled 1,016 representation elections, up from 940 the year before. That statistic is good news amid a volatile climate of unethical, illegal union-busting. The IAM’s Midwest Territory is fighting such practices with all its might. One example is Motor Appliance Corporation in Washington, MO. The IAM was first approached by unhappy workers there in December 2021. By February, union supporters were organizing. But the company ran an egregious anti-union campaign that included a captive audience meeting, nearly 30
minutes of which was recorded via audio. Such a meeting is required by employers and designed to discourage union membership.
A hired company consultant who only called himself “Alex the union-buster” ran that meeting. The behavior exposed on the recording caught the attention of our union and later the NLRB. After listing to the audio, the IAM noted at least a dozen violations of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and filed unfair labor practice charges almost immediately. Last year, a sweeping change took place when new NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a 10-page memo laying out her agenda, which includes aggressively enforcing the National Labor Relations Act.
“One of the things that labor has always complained about is that there’s no real teeth in the act,” said IAM General Counsel Carla M. Siegel. GC Abruzzo is “looking for ways to impose more penalties when warrented and, therefore, more teeth in the act… to really make it painful for somebody to violate the act.” The difference between the current administration and the prior one is night and day, according to Siegel.
“Now, under this administration, we know that there’s somebody who will fairly look at the facts and determine whether there’s an unfair labor practice or not,” she explained. “Under the Trump administration, we didn’t have a fighting chance. The most egregious things they would say wasn’t an unfair labor practice, when it clearly violated the statute.” She said the current Board won’t always rule in unions’ favor, but we’re going to get a fair shake.
IAM Organizer Bob Beloit recognized a change when it came to the speed at which the NLRB reacted to the unfair labor charges at Motor Appliance Corp. He said normally it takes two to three weeks for affidavits, but this time around charges were filed on a Wednesday and the NLRB was ready to interview witnesses within five days. “They were very swift,” he
“What the anti-union consultant did inside this facility was so heinous,” Beloit said. “These people were so divided and so scared, but the core group of union supporters was really strong.” One of the unfair labor practice charges included discharging employees because of their union activities. Another charged the employer with interfering in the exercise of the employees’ rights, leading to what the NLRB calls constructive discharges, or constructive terminations. Those occur when employees feel forced to resign due to such intolerable or hostile working conditions. “To the person that’s lost their job and wondering where their next meal is going to come from, how they’re going to keep making their house payments,” Beloit said, “speed is very important. “When you can have that kind of speed, that puts the individual that’s been wronged at ease and it calms the rest of the group [of workers].”
Speed is also important because the more time that goes by, the greater potential for workers to be demoralized by a company’s immoral tactics. Organizers are fully aware of this scenario. Past consequences of unfair labor practices included posting a notice stating that workers’ rights were violated, but the IAM considers that a slap on the wrist. “When they put the notice up, they’re saying ‘I’m sorry we got caught,’” said Beloit. Fixing the broken labor law system in the United States will take time and strategic, collective action by all labor unions in North America. “We have a duty to call out any inadequacies in our government agencies, from the top down,” said Galloway. “This is a chance to right the wrongs against workers in a way that motivates future behavior.” “The Midwest Territory is amazing,” said Beloit. “General Vice President Galloway has a great team. We bounce ideas off one another. We meet monthly as organizers and get updates on the NLRB and that’s where we found out about this memo that came out.”
The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) has the ability to correct unlawful practices by expanding labor protections, making captive audience meetings unfair labor practices, and prohibiting employers from taking adverse actions against employees who exercise their legal labor rights. Beloit encourages organizers to document everything, pay attention to details and stay organized. “You cannot document enough,” said Beliot. “Save everything, every email, meeting sign-in sheets.” He says what organizers do in the beginning of the campaign gives them something to work with if unfair labor practices charges arise. “We’re here at this point because of a phenomenal group of people that had a dream,” said Beloit. “They knew it was legally obtainable, they put faith in the system. They wanted to give it a try and they had a chance of being successful because of the amazing leadership this union has.” Unions are only as strong as the members that hold them together. “Stronger unions mean stronger communities,” Galloway said. “It’s a very important time in labor’s history.”