Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Triumph Composite workers strike; company seeks replacements

Susie Bellino, left, and Sue Six members of the machinists’ union, assemble picket signs for their impending strike against Triumph Composites on Tuesday, at the local lodge of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Behind the numbers, the strike signs and the tough talk of labor strife are people like Susie Bellino.

For nine years she has made airplane parts at the Triumph Composite Systems factory on the West Plains.

Recently, she has been on a small team engaged in the manufacture of clips that help fasten wings onto fuselages. It’s a narrowly focused but important job, she said: “I’m proud of the work I do.”

On Wednesday, however, Bellino and most of the other 402 members of the Machinists’ union at the Triumph plant in Spokane are going on strike. Weeks of contract negotiations failed to resolve disagreements regarding money, retirement plans, health care and job security.

“This is about the future, about our community and its ability to have our kids make a decent living,” Bellino said.

It’s the first time in seven years the Machinists have walked off the job to strike the Pennsylvania-based company that scooped up the factory in 2003 from Boeing Co. for $42.2 million.

It has become a profitable parts supplier that sells air duct systems, floor panels and other equipment to Airbus, Bombardier and other companies .

Though labor relations ebb and flow, union officials said Triumph executives are trying to pit employees against each other with unbalanced pay and benefits policies. They also accuse the company of abusing state tax incentive programs tailored for aerospace companies by moving local jobs to Mexico.

Triumph officials counter that the company is offering at least a 2 percent wage increase for all employees, and lump-sum payments totaling $4,000 during the three-year contract offer. An employee with about seven years of experience at Triumph earns about $21 an hour, according to numbers included in a contract statement.

While companies that receive tax incentives from the state are required to file annual reports, the state Department of Revenue couldn’t immediately produce Triumph’s most recent report on Tuesday.

In a prepared statement regarding the strike, the company said it is “disappointed by this decision, which is not in the best interest of the employees, the company or the community.”

Several days ago Triumph Group reported a $1 billion loss and announced that it planned to consolidate operations to save money. Triumph officials have not said which properties may be closed and there’s no indication that Spokane is targeted, despite the contract problems.

Most of the billion-dollar loss is considered an accounting write-off, not the dollars-and-cents of operating income from factories such as the one in Spokane.

In response to the strike, Triumph has employed a company that has been advertising for replacement workers to cross the picket lines and work with managers to keep production on schedule.

Bargaining team member Jerry Purser predicted such efforts will not work.

“We make 20,000 parts per month,” he said, calling the work by Machinists to make aircraft parts high quality and efficient.

“This is work that requires precision and skill,” Purser added. “Our hope is that this can be resolved shortly and we can get back to work.”