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Aerospace workers approve contract

Workers for Triumph Composite Systems approved a new contract Monday after four days of picketing and one long day of negotiations.

About 370 workers went on strike Friday after rejecting a contract they said didn’t give some veteran workers enough pay and didn’t raise wages at a quick enough pace. The new contract – which passed 238-111 – addresses those concerns, but workers weren’t entirely satisfied.

“It’s better than the first proposal – slightly,” said Jerry Womble, a veteran assembler at the Spokane factory that makes floor panels and ducts for Boeing Aerospace and Airbus airplanes. “We didn’t get what we wanted, but there’s a breaking point. I think this is the best we can get before we start losing.”

Womble was laid off in 2002 alongside about 130 other workers as Boeing prepared to sell the factory to Pennsylvania-based Triumph Group Inc. in 2003. Triumph rehired him in 2005 at an hourly wage of $10.81 – about $10 less than he made as a seven-year Boeing employee, he said. Now he makes about $16 an hour.

That’s one of the reasons the workers went on strike, to try to get 34 “preferential” rehires from Boeing – such as Womble – the pay they felt was deserved.

“They deserve a higher wage. They deserve a decent life,” said Rosie Erils, a union member who has worked at the factory 17 years.

The picketers also wanted to set higher wages for new hires and make those beginning positions more attractive by setting a shorter salary-step system than the one offered last week. Triumph’s first offer put new employees on an 11-year track to reach the top salaries.

The new contract offers a nine-year system with a 55-cent raise every six months. The preferential employees get an extra $1.10 wage increase on the first step, according to an informational packet given to voters Monday.

Womble said that by the time the three-year contract plays out, his wage should reach to within $1 of his Boeing salary.

The new contract also bolsters a bonus to be paid by June 22. The bonus increased from $60 to $75 for each month of experience, with a minimum bonus of $900, according to a union news release.

Miles Tuck, a production mechanic who joined Triumph 10 months ago, called the new contract “pretty fair.” But what he noticed most was the feeling of support within Machinists Union District 751, Local 86.

“What I loved was everyone looking out for each other,” Tuck said. “That’s the best part of the whole thing.”

Tuck, Womble and Erils joined hundreds of other workers in front of Triumph’s factory, near Spokane International Airport, to picket throughout the weekend and Monday.

Triumph’s management asked union negotiators to meet Sunday, and contract talks continued into the early hours of Monday, said Paul Milliken, business representative for the union. Workers voted between noon and 8 p.m. Monday.

“I think it was a very positive outcome,” he said. “I’m just glad we got it passed and that our membership is able to go back to work.”

Triumph managers would not comment Monday night on the vote.

Kevin Winans, a quality assurance inspector who marched the picket line, was glad to have the conflict resolved. He planned to return to work at 6 a.m. today.

“I’m glad we could all come together on this,” he said. “This puts the past behind us and moves us forward.”

Many workers at the voting station Monday agreed the contract isn’t ideal. They suggested the relationship between workers and Triumph management historically has been rocky.

Workers also said they were amazed the weekend’s conflict was addressed so quickly with a new contract offer.

“I think it’s a fair contract for everybody. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I’d also like to live to fight another day,” said Winans, a 10-year company veteran. “This is a long-term marriage between the working team out there and the management, and I’m not willing to get a divorce.”

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