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Union Sues To Hold Pratt & Whitney Jobs

Tue, 09/22/2009 - 11:22am
Stephen Singer, AP Manufacturing Writer

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Machinists union asked a federal judge Tuesday to block Pratt & Whitney from moving 1,000 jobs from Connecticut, accusing the jet engine maker of negotiating in bad faith.

The International Association of Machinists said in court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Hartford that Pratt & Whitney executives failed to make "every reasonable effort" to preserve the jet engine repair jobs in Connecticut.

The subsidiary of United Technologies Corp. announced Monday it will shut its Cheshire plant by early 2011 and shift some operations from its East Hartford facility beginning in the second quarter of next year. Work will be moved to Columbus, Ga., Singapore and Japan.

"We truly think the company did not live up to its obligations," James Parent, the chief representative of the union local, said at a news conference outside the court. "We negotiated in good faith. They did not."

Greg Brostowicz, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, said in an e-mail that the company has not been served with the lawsuit and will not comment on the complaint.

However, he said the decision to close the Cheshire plant and the East Hartford operations "was made only after making every effort to identify alternatives that would make these businesses competitive and preserve the work in Connecticut."

Pratt & Whitney has been hurt by the steep downturn in the airline industry and is responding by cutting costs, Brostowicz said.

"Unfortunately, the reality we are facing is a dramatic and sustained drop in volume, a shifting customer base and a declining aerospace market," he said.

The Machinists union, which represents 3,700 Pratt & Whitney workers, insists the company violated its union contract that expires in December 2010 by failing to do all it can to preserve jobs in Connecticut.

"We're not asking for an injunction that would prevent them from moving ever," said Gregg D. Adler, the union's lawyer. "We were conceding millions and millions of dollars of concessions just to keep them until December of 2010. That is all we are seeking in this proceeding. They agreed to a contract. They should live by it."

A legal victory by the union would extend work for Pratt & Whitney employees through 2009 and to the end of next year, halting efforts by the company to begin laying off workers immediately.

And the union will be able to negotiate the issue when talks begin for a new contract at the end of next year and can even call a strike when the contract expires.

However, Adler conceded that Pratt & Whitney will have the last word.

"There's no way to prevent a company ultimately from doing what it wants to do in the long run under the system we live in," he said.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he will file legal papers next week in federal court backing the union.

"There's no way this charade was a reasonable effort to preserve jobs," he said. "This company is making a hefty profit. It wants to make more profit."

Adler said the Machinists won a similar battle in 2000 to halt a drive by Pratt & Whitney to shift jobs from Connecticut. However, the company learned from its defeat and this time made the appearance of adhering to the contract, he said.

"In reality, it was the same kind of thing," Adler said.

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