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Workers picket Lockheed headquarters in solidarity with Fort Worth

The understated corporate neighborhood wedged between an interstate and the Washington, D.C., Beltway and home to Lockheed Martin Inc. took on a rowdy flavor Thursday with the shouting, chanting, sign-waving and heckling of more than 150 picketers supporting the International Association of Machinists’ strike.

As a car was about to enter the gates to the Lockheed Martin corporate headquarters at 8:30 a.m., Mike Wendling stood on the median, leaned over to the driver’s window and shouted, “Shame on you.”

Wendling, a machinist who came from Chicago with several colleagues to support the strike against the Fort Worth-based Lockheed Martin plant, said of the union’s fight against benefit cutbacks, “It starts here and then it gets everyone in the public sector.”

“An injury to one is an injury to all,” said Sam Cicinelli, also of Chicago.

The strike, now in its fifth week, includes 170 workers from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in southern Maryland who are covered by the contract.

About 50 of the Pax River workers were at the corporate headquarters picketing, said Gilbert Torres, chief shop steward at the southern Maryland facility which tests the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 fighter. Torres’ sign read: “Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Now, Lockheed-Martin.”

Asked how the company related to the U.S. wars in the Middle East, he said, “We had to fight for freedom overseas. Now we’ve got to accomplish it in our own country.”

The point of taking a stand at the corporate office, he said, “is to get them back to the negotiating table.” There are no ongoing talks between labor and management.

“It’s not about money,” said Torres, but about health insurance and pensions.

Although there were frequent horn honks of approval for the strikers from passing cars, the loudest, most frequent horns were from an IAM bus and van that kept circling the road in front of headquarters.

Peggy Boyd, who works at Patuxent River, was standing on the median of the roadway in front of the gray corporate office and said she had come to “make more noise to tell the new CEO that we’re not backing down.”

Lockheed Martin Chief Operating Officer Chris Kubasik has been named chief executive officer as of January 2013, when chief executive officer Bob Stevens steps down, though Stevens will remain chairman.

Boyd is focused on healthcare and finds Lockheed Martin’s offer of limited healthcare options and a high deductible to be a non-starter. “Everyone needs healthcare,” she said. “Even Obama has a healthcare plan. Their plan is not acceptable. Even welfare is better than what they offer.”

What is the impact of the strike?

In a recent tour of the Fort Worth plant by the Star-Telegram, company officials said the production lines of F-16s and F-35s have been unaffected by the strike.

But the Pax River machinists, who are protesting outside the gates at the southern Maryland naval facility almost daily, said Thursday that they watch the test flights and while there had been four to five F-35 flights daily now they see no more than two a day. “What we were doing in one day, they’re doing in one week,” said Bill Myers, a striking machinist at Pax River.

On the personal front, five weeks without a paycheck – other than $150 a week in union strike pay – has taken its toll.

Greg Collins, a Pax River machinist who led the bullhorn chants, said that he was on strike for his wife, Donna, and two children, who were also part of the picket line.

“My wife has MS (multiple sclerosis),” said Collins. “She hasn’t been able to get the medications she needs. My daughter has ADHD. I found a coupon online with a free 30 day trial.”

Asked about how she is managing with multiple sclerosis, Donna Collins said, “It’s getting really, really hard. Doctors try to help me with samples. I have one more week (of medication) and I’m done.”

Greg Collins said “we’re about to lose everything – our house.” With taxes due on their home of $1,200, the Collins’ say they don’t know what will happen to them, though Greg Collins has found a retail job paying $8 an hour – far from the $25 an hour he got before.

But they do not regret their decision. “It’s all worth it,” said Greg Collins, as his wife nodded. Son Jaden, 9, and daughter Alyssa, 8, both carrying signs, enjoyed the boisterous flavor of the picket line.

A Montgomery County, Md., police officer and several Lockheed Martin security personnel kept watch, but the event was peaceful.

In a statement, Lockheed Martin spokesperson Jennifer Allen said, “We respect the union’s right to establish informational pickets and at no time, was anyone desiring to enter our facility prevented from doing so. We remain confident that we made a fair and respectful offer to the IAM employees, and remain open to resuming negotiations.”

“Production at our facilities continues, airplanes are flying and customer commitments are being met,” she said. “In Fort Worth, we have delivered six aircraft (including three F-35s) since the strike began, four more are ready to go pending final approval by the Defense Contract Management Agency, and we’re continuing to roll new aircraft from the factory to the flight line for acceptance flight testing.

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