Machinists Union pickets target Kent's Hytek Finishes

Informational pickets from the Machinists Union walk in front of Hytek Finishes in Kent to support company employees seeking a new contract.  - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Informational pickets from the Machinists Union walk in front of Hytek Finishes in Kent to support company employees seeking a new contract.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

More than 200 informational pickets from the Machinists Union showed up Wednesday at Kent's Hytek Finishes to show support for the company's employees during ongoing contract talks.

"We are here to support them as they work on getting their first contract," said picket Wilson "Fergie" Ferguson, a member of Machinists Union District Lodge 751 and a Boeing worker for 25 years as he walked on the sidewalk in front of Hytek. "They are having a hard time getting their first contract."

Hytek, 8127 S. 216th St., is a subsidiary of Bellevue-based Esterline Technologies. Hytek provides aerospace parts to Boeing, Lockheed, Bell Helicopters and others.

A Esterline spokeswoman in Bellevue did not return a message from the Kent Reporter for comment about the pickets and contract talks.

The union represents about 175 workers at Hytek, according to a union media release. Employees voted in August by a 2-to-1 margin to join Machinists Union District Lodge 751, which also represents hourly workers at Boeing.

Pickets had three primary goals as they walked the sidewalk between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday:

• Show support for fellow machinists during their difficult contract talks

• Inform the Kent community about the problems faced by their neighbors at Hytek

• Alert Hytek customers – and investors in its parent company, Esterline Corp. – of the lack of progress in the talks

The picket is informational in nature and isn’t necessarily a sign a strike is imminent, said Kevin Cummings, a representative of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers who is leading the union bargaining team. In fact, talks continued on Wednesday.

“Our members are here on their own time to support our fellow machinists, who are having a hard time getting management at Hytek to negotiate a fair contract,” said Cummings in a media release. “We want them to know that they’re not alone in this fight.”

Employees are seeking improvements in safety, pay and benefits.

Ferguson said he has seen brown marks on the arms of employees from chemicals they work with.

"They do not wear personal protective equipment," Ferguson said. "Most companies supply that. We can help them with that if they get a contract."

The union points out Hytek workers routinely handle more than 100 different toxic or cancer-causing materials. Hytek management provides workers with basic safety equipment, but union health-and-safety experts have identified many areas for improvement.

Talks began in October and have become increasingly contentious, according to the union. The union in February filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Hytek’s managers of deliberately violating the workers’ rights under federal labor law.

The union says Hytek’s average salary of $16 an hour is far below the market rate for manufacturing workers in Washington, which is $31.15 an hour according to the state’s Department of Employment Security, which tracks the pay of hourly manufacturing workers from aerospace to forest products to food processing.

Hytek employees face up to $7,200 a year in out-of-pocket health care costs before their benefits kick in, and the union says a number of Hytek workers have been forced to declare bankruptcy because their insurance didn’t fully cover the hospital bills after their children were born.

“We don’t think parenthood should be a luxury reserved for the wealthy few,” said Cummings. “We proposed alternative health care plans that would have provided the workers with better coverage – and cost Hytek less money – but management wasn’t interested.”

The machinists said they’ve proposed alternatives to address the safety and pay issues too, but so far, Hytek management hasn’t been interested.

"They're new members of our family," said picket Keith Elliott, who has worked 25 years at Boeing. "We want to bring them aboard and let them know that we've got their back."

District Lodge 751 formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at Boeing. The union represents more than 31,000 workers in Washington, Oregon and California. District 751 members ratified in December a four-year contract extension with Boeing to ensure that the 737 MAX will be built in the Puget Sound area.

Hytek started in Kent in 1957 as Heath Plating. The company moved to its current 100,000 square-foot facility in 1989.

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