Vote Could Lead To Second Strike In Three Years

A majority of workers at Northrop Grumman Ingalls operation voted down a contract proposal that would have raised pay but increased health insurance premiums. The contract was voted on by 2,771 union members yesterday. More than 1,500 voted against it.

There are five contracts, one for nine unions represented by Pascagoula Metal Trades Council and separate contracts for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Office Workers, Guards and a group of independent machinists. The largest group of workers, who are represented by MTC, voted yesterday at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Jackson Campus in Gautier.

The 800 members of the IBEW union vote Today. Voting against the contract could lead to the second strike at Ingalls in the past three years, or both sides could be brought back to the table by a federal mediator as early as today.

The 3½-year contract would have raised pay more than $1.20 per hour, and also provided $5,000 in bonus payments. But substantial increases in health insurance premiums apparently was too much for Ingalls workers to approve.

The first group of workers to vote on a contract at Northrop Grumman Ingalls operation has overwhelmingly approved it, union officials say. About 82 percent of the Office and Professional Employees Local 204 voted on the contract Thursday, said the union's business manager Lula Stewart and its international representative, Faye Orr. They said the overwhelming majority approved the deal. The union has about 115 members. They said the most significant change for this union is the institution of a step system for raises for clerical workers. For at least one worker it will mean as much as a 40 percent increase in pay by the end of the contract in October 2006.

One of the biggest sore spots has been the increase in the cost of health care. Like other workers nationwide, the Ingalls workers are being asked to pay a larger share. Ingalls gave its final offer Monday, but union officials got an additional meeting on Tuesday and told the company they would vote it down as proposed. Ingalls came back with a larger wage increase and a reduction in out-of-pocket costs for health care, but it lengthened the terms of the contract from 36 to 43 months.

Ingalls is owned by Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp., the No. 2 defense company, which expects to have sales in 2003 of $25 billion.

((Compiled from AP Wire Reports))