Union pleased as Hytek-Machinists talks go to mediation

Management at Hytek Finishes has reversed its earlier opposition to asking federal mediators for help in resolving contentious contract talks with the Machinists Union.

Union negotiators hailed the decision, which comes more than two months after managers at the Kent aerospace parts plant had rejected an offer from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help settle the contract.

"The company has dug in its heels on some issues that make no sense," said Kevin Cummings, a grand lodge representative for the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers and the union's lead negotiator. "A fresh set of eyes and ears might help the company move forward."

Sessions with the mediator have been scheduled for May 23 and June 6.

More than 175 Machinists Union members work at Hytek Finishes in Kent, which is a subsidiary of Bellevue-based Esterline Corp. The Machinists do metal finishing and plating on aerospace parts. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopters are major customers, and Hytek is an important supplier for the Pentagon's Joint Strike Fighter.

The workers at Hytek voted by a 2-to-1 margin in August to join Machinists Union District Lodge 751, and talks on a first contract started in October.

The talks have been contentious, leading the union to file unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board in February, accusing the Esterline subsidiary of deliberately violating the rights of union members under federal labor law.

Those charges are still under investigation.

Cummings said some progress has been made at the table in the past month. The two sides have come to terms on language covering holidays and leaves of absence, and are closer to an agreement on improvements to paid vacation benefits and on a better system for raises, he said.

But on the key issues – health insurance, safety and pay – the two sides remain far apart, Cummings said.

Hytek management has refused to consider union proposals to provide better health insurance to workers at no extra cost to management. "They said they'd rather have a strike than fix the medical," Cummings said.

The company also wants to pay its highly skilled aerospace industry specialists wages typically earned by day laborers in construction, he said.

"They're comparing aerospace coating specialists with production workers and bridge painters who use rollers and brushes," he said.

The difference in pay between unskilled painters and workers who process metals to precise specifications is about $5 an hour, Cummings said, citing Puget Sound wage data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and the state's Labor Market and Economic Analysis branch.

Cummings said he's hopeful the mediator will help move talks forward.

"It's in everybody's best interest – the customers, the shareholders, managers and especially our members – to get this resolved," Cummings said. "The only ones who benefit from dragging this out are Esterline's lawyers. I'd rather see that money go to the workers and shareholders."

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