CHESHIRE — Michelle Basso awoke early Monday and joined co-workers on a picket line outside UTC Aerospace’s Knotter Drive location to protest higher insurance premiums and deductibles.
The Torrington resident has been a quality control and inspection worker for 14 years at UTC Aerospace Systems, a division of United Technologies Corp. making parts for guidance systems and gyroscopes.
“We are at the bottom of the barrel,” Basso said. “We can’t pay the insurance. We want to be treated the same as the others. We make a lot less than they do.”
Basso and 188 other members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 62A agreed to strike Monday at midnight after contract talks faltered and two-thirds of its members voted to strike.
A UTC spokeswoman said the company is assessing its next steps and added it’s too early to say what option it might take to meet customer needs.
“UTC Aerospace Systems will remain open and operate as normal throughout the work stoppage,” said spokeswoman Jessica Napoli. “We have robust contingency plans in place and do not expect the strike to affect our customers or suppliers.”
UTC shut the gate at the Knotter Drive plant and Cheshire police guarded the driveway Monday. The picketers took turns protesting during four-hour shifts with a nearby coffee and doughnut station providing refreshments. Several passing trucks honked in solidarity with the striking workers.
The union said UTC’s latest offer included pay increases that were too small to keep up with a hike in health care costs.
Workers at Pratt & Whitney and Hamilton Sundstrand, also UTC divisons, earn double the amount the UTC Aerospace Corp. workers earn, according to the union. All divisions were offered a 2 percent wage hike across the board but the higher health care premiums and co-pays threaten to offset any gains the Cheshire employees might receive. Some workers could earn less pay.
“Many of the workers at the ratification saw that their pay would actually go down if the agreement was approved,” said Mike Stone, directing business representative for AMI District Lodge 26.
There is no date to return to the bargaining table and Stone has not spoken to management since the strike vote. The workers are prepared to strike as long as necessary to get a deal, he said.
“We’re the only ones striking now,” Basso said.
Gail Byrd-Fox, of Waterbury, has worked for the company as a quality tester for 44 years.
“I’m getting ready to retire,” Byrd-Fox said. “There are workers having children and having a hard time bringing them to the doctor, it’s so expensive. I’m here because somebody fought for me. I’m going to fight for someone else. They can’t give us 2 percent when the deductible keeps going up.”
Other strikers also complained that UTC is dividing the older and younger workers by failing to provide a pension to the younger ones.
UTC Aerospace Systems makes aerospace and defense products. It also designs, manufactures and services systems and components for the commercial, military and space industries. The entire Aerospace Systems division has 40,984 employees and reported $14.7 billion in net sales, according to a UTC report that also said the entire company made $59.837 billion.