They said Lockheed could not back off its plan to end defined pension benefits for future workers, the key issue at stake in the strike, given economic realities.
“As you’ve seen, we’ve already brought on hundreds of temporary workers to supplement the great work you’re doing, and we’re accelerating the hiring of additional temporary workers to keep the business moving forward,” Stevens, President Christopher Kubasik and Larry Lawson, head of the aeronautics division, said in a letter to employees.
Lockheed remains mired in difficult negotiations with the Pentagon for a fifth batch of 32 F-35 fighter planes, talks in which pensions have become a key issue, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
“PRESSURE ON PENSION COSTS”
The two sides remain far apart despite six months of talks, said the source, noting that U.S. defense officials have demanded “substantial” cuts in Lockheed’s labor and pension costs, which account for about a third of the company’s overall costs on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
“The government is seeking more savings in the labor costs and pensions than anywhere else,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “That means the company really doesn’t have any choice in the strike, because the government is putting so much pressure on pension costs.”
Lockheed’s other unions and salaried workers agreed to defined contributions pension programs as early as 2006, but the Fort Worth machinists union has dug in its heels, arguing that future workers will need the defined benefits more than ever, given the overall level of economic uncertainty.
Stout said the temporary workers and about 1,100 salaried workers were working on manufacturing, assembly, flight operations support and maintenance. He said Lockheed had many more employees available for assignment if needed, and was training more workers daily to take on new tasks.
Stout said the company was operating two shifts and working every day at the Fort Worth facility, where about 260 of the 3,300 striking machinists have returned to work.