Several hundred United Space Alliance workers vote to strike

by Chris Bergin

With just six days to go before the launch of Shuttle Atlantis on STS-117, United Space Alliance (USA) workers – who are members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) – have voted to go on strike.

The threatened action follows an announcement on Saturday that the union had rejected a final offer for the renewal of a collective bargaining agreement from USA, who claim STS-117 won’t be halted as a result.

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The United Space Alliance make up the bulk of the Shuttle workforce at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), working all levels of vehicle processing. In all, USA employees 10,000 workers, who are based in Texas, Houston and Alabama. Established in August 1995 as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). USA is equally owned by The Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin Corporation.

Nearly 600 USA workers are part of the IAM union, who are claiming rights to improved retirement benefits and heath care plans.

‘According to information received from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, union members have rejected United Space Alliance’s final offer for the renewal of the collective bargaining agreement,’ noted a release from USA.

‘We are surprised and disappointed that IAM members did not ratify the offered contract proposal. The final offer was fair, competitive and responsive in every area. We hope that IAM members will reconsider their position.’

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USA believe they can replace those workers in order to allow STS-117 to proceed as scheduled, as they are not part of the workforce that is directly associated with the launch itself.

‘If a strike does occur, USA is prepared to continue activities to safely prepare the Space Shuttle vehicles for their upcoming launches by using other experienced and certified employees to perform all necessary tasks,’ added the statement.

‘Throughout this time, the safety of the astronaut crew members, our employees and the irreplaceable national assets at the Kennedy Space Center will remain our top priority. All safety practices and procedures will be maintained at their usual high standard and will not be compromised.’

John Walker, Directing Business Representative – IAM, District 166 – disagreed with USA’s position, claiming the strike would, regrettably, cause problems for the shuttle program.

A five day cooling off period is now activated, after which the option to strike will come into play.

‘It’s a tremendous impact on the shuttle program, and it’s not our position to do that,’ he said. ‘The qualifications that our guys have to do those particular jobs takes years to get. It isn’t something that they just get overnight. If the company claims that they can do that, I’m concerned about that.’

The strike – if it actually goes ahead – wouldn’t hold any problems for STS-117, but would relate more to the processing of Endeavour’s STS-118 mission, as IAM members are involved with ET (External Tank) lift and mate, SRB (Solid Rocket Booster) and ET transport and Crawler Transporter.

Preparations with Endeavour are going through a ‘critical path’ with the build-up of the SRBs inside the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building), and ET-117 is currently in a checkout cell. Endeavour is required for LON (Launch On Need) support.

Regardless, USA still plan to have people in place, and insist that there won’t be any impact to any critical processing paths on any flows at KSC, including Endeavour’s LON and primary mission requirements.

‘We have a pool of employees identified from around the company, engineers, managers, employees who used to perform some of the functions the striking workers perform,’ said Tracy Yates of USA.

‘We’ve made sure that they are all fully certified, trained, and qualified to perform the functions that we would ask them to so we are confident that we can safely continue shuttle processing in the event of a strike.

‘We will be able to launch and land even if there is a strike. As I said we’ve made provisions to fill any of the positions that would be vacated by the striking workers with other qualified individuals from around the company and in some cases using some contractors so we’re fully confident that we’ll meet all the needs of the launch and landing operations.

‘We will make every effort to see that safety is not compromised, even if workers go out on strike. We’ve got a plan in place to take care of that. We’ll go slow, we’ll take our time, and we’ll be sure that we’re safe.’

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