Temporary permanent replacements hired at Space Center

United Space Alliance said it plans to hire hundreds of workers to replace members of the Machinists union on strike at Kennedy Space Center since June 14 over failed contract negotiations.

Meanwhile, a letter dated Friday from 23 members of Congress to Michael McCulley, president and chief executive officer of United Space Alliance, encourages the company "to reach an agreement in a timely manner."

The "nation is counting on a continuation" of the productive partnership between the union and the company to "ensure that the remaining shuttle missions are carried out safely and successfully," the letter states. "If we are to transition smoothly from the space shuttle program to the Ares/Orion program, we will need the talents and experience of this workforce."

United Space Alliance spokeswoman Tracy Yates said the company's hiring plan "is not an effort to replace" the strikers permanently "at this time."

Yates said the replacement workers will be hired as subcontractors or temporary company employees, but converting them to permanent employees "is an option that USA could exercise at any time."

A representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2061 called the company's hiring plans a common "ploy to scare" the union to end the strike, or at least get strikers to cross picket lines and return to work as "scabs."

"Our members ain't going to buy it," said Bob Wood, a representative for Local 2061. "It's pretty transparent."

About 445 union members at KSC are striking against United Space Alliance, NASA's main contractor for the shuttle program.

The company and the union have been at odds over a variety of contract issues, including annual raises, performance bonuses and benefits, including health insurance.

Working with a federal mediator, the two sides returned to the bargaining table Sept. 20 for the first time in more than three months, but negotiations broke down after one day.

Wood said union representatives plan to travel to Washington, D.C., today in advance of a meeting Monday with federal mediators, in hopes of getting the company back to the bargaining table.

Regarding United Space Alliance's hiring plans, Yates said she does not know exactly how many people the company will hire, or the timetable for hiring them.

In an advertisement scheduled for today's edition of FLORIDA TODAY, United Space Alliance invites applicants to apply for "hundreds of opportunities" in a variety of jobs, from painters and welders to machinists and crane operators.

The company advertises hourly wages ranging from $19.71 to $27.08, with benefits, or pay in lieu of benefits, and overtime opportunities.

"United Space Alliance now has a labor dispute with the union representing employees in these jobs," the ad states. "Employment in these jobs may be with USA or a subcontractor to USA."

Yates said the company placed the ad because of the long duration of the strike, and to relieve about 200 permanent company employees who have been performing extra duties normally done by the strikers.

Already, United Space Alliance has hired about 130 temporary workers as subcontractors to handle jobs left vacant by the strikers, Yates said.

In addition, more than 100 workers who are part of the union's bargaining unit are not striking and are working for the company, Yates said. The union said many of this group of workers are not dues-paying union members.

The union released a copy of the letter from the Congress members to McCulley, which states: "While we appreciate your efforts to achieve a cost savings in the program, we also feel it is important that the workforce obtain a fair and equitable settlement in these negotiations."

Yates said that has been the company's intention.

"USA is as eager to resolve this, as these members of Congress are," Yates said, referring to the letter.

"Our goal has been a fair and equitable contract for the union members and the company," she said. "We want to ensure members of Congress that our shuttle preparations are proceeding safely and without incident."

All of the Congressional members who signed the letter are Democrats, and most are members of the House Committee on Science and Technology, and the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, according to Wood.

The two members of Congress who represent Brevard County -- Reps. Tom Feeney of Oviedo and Dave Weldon of Indialantic, both Republicans -- did not sign the letter.

Weldon spokesman Kurt Heath said Weldon was not aware of the letter, and he did not know if Weldon would have signed it if he had been asked.

A representative for Feeney could not be reached for comment.


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