…Goes the sound of ever more manufacturing jobs draining out of Connecticut. This time, it’s 77 machinists at Hamilton Sundstrand. Will the courts stop it?
When a machinists’ contract came up last year at Hamilton Sundstrand’s plant in Windsor Locks, job security was the union’s number one priority. After all, moving manufacturing jobs out of Connecticut seemed to be one of United Technologies Corporation’s central missions for its subsidiaries, which includes Hamilton. So Hartford Aircraft Lodge 743 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers negotiated hard for legal protections. They signed an agreement forming a joint labor-management committeem meant to discuss productivity issues. That way, should Hamilton start thinking about eliminating Connecticut jobs, they could go to the committee and see whether the union could enhance productivity, said Mark Hebert, President of Lodge 743.“Our philosophy is if we work real hard, and prove to the company that we can do it faster, better and cheaper, we should retain jobs here, maybe even grow jobs here,” Hebert said.If that didn’t work, and Hamilton still wanted to move jobs away, then the collective bargaining agreement directs the dispute to arbitration, the union contends.But last November, Hamilton announced it was moving one of its operations out of Connecticut, which would affect 77 workers. It hadn’t breathed a word of its intentions beforehand, according to a new lawsuit filed by the union in U.S. District Court June 10. And the company refused to submit its decision to arbitration, a position the union hopes will be repudiated in court.The 77 workers threatened by Hamilton’s decision make valves that meter the fuel allowed into a jet engine, Hebert said, analogous to a carburetor on a car, but much more precise. The valves are manufactured to extremely tight tolerances, within 50 millionths of an inch, he said.“They think manufacturing is a word. They don’t see it as a skill,” Hebert said of Hamilton’s management.Company spokesman Tom Callahan declined to comment on the suit, saying the company does not comment on pending litigation. Spokeswoman Peg Hashem told the Courant last month the job transfers are driven by excess capacity. “The company sometimes has to make very difficult decisions,’’ she told the Courant. “We had overcapacity at our manufacturing facilities, so we’re consolidating where possible and moving work to our lower-cost plants.’‘The average Hamilton worker in this group makes between $25 and $28 per hour, and is 50 years old, Hebert said. Of the 77 workers, 24 will either be transferred or take early retirement. Hebert estimates that in the last three years- including this latest round- his union has lost roughly 500 workers, or a third of its membership.