Civilian employees at a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker maintenance site are holding a vote to unionize today after several months of campaigning in which they allege Stryker manufacturer General Dynamics compelled them to attend “anti-union” meetings.
General Dynamics made some concessions to the complaints and in a letter to Rep. Adam Smith of Tacoma said it wanted the employees to understand the “potential burdens that can accompany the collective bargaining process.”
Organizers for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 286 expect a close vote among the 120 or so workers who can join the union. Supporters want better health care and retirement options, as well as a boost in wages.
Virginia-based General Dynamics manufactures eight-wheeled Stryker infantry vehicles in the upper Midwest and in Canada. It has large maintenance and refitting operations at Lewis-McChord, Anniston, Ala., and Ladson, S.C. Some of its Stryker operations have union workforces.
It’s in the last year of a $1.45 billion program to provide logistics support to the Army’s Stryker brigades at home and in war zones.
The company meetings on Lewis-McChord property rankled some union supporters who were denied opportunities to hold informational settings at their workplace. Many of the employees are veterans.
“Here we are. We fought for freedom. We come home. We get a job, and they’re cramming their views down our throats on government property,” said union organizer Jeff Alexander.
Smith, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, had a meeting with General Dynamics officials and posed some of the union’s questions. The congressman cited a March letter to employees that the union interpreted as threatening because it mentioned “the risk that comes with (the) decision” to join a union, such as work stoppages.
General Dynamics Land Systems President Mark Roualet replied in a May letter to Smith that the company wanted employees to “have both sides of the story.”
He wrote that the meetings at Lewis-McChord were intended to be nonthreatening. He said General Dynamics would not allow the union to hold meetings at the maintenance shop because it did not want to open the door to inviting other third-party groups, such as religious organizations, to the work yard.
Smith spokeswoman Ayofemi Kirby said the company answered the congressman’s questions and she said Smith is watching today’s vote.
One union supporter is Jason Coic, a Marine veteran and two-year employee at General Dynamics. He wants a better retirement plan. He felt the company meetings were attempts to strong-arm employees against joining the union.
“It’s going to be a very close vote, but I think we’re going to get the answer we want,” he said.adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com 253-597-8646