About 600 unionized workers at the United Launch Alliance, the main rocket-propellant provider for the US government, went on strike on May 6, just one day after the company launched a Mars lander for NASA.
The employees are part of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), and are responsible for assembling, testing and helping launch the ULA rockets. They voted to go on strike after rejecting ULA's final offer for a three-year contract that would have gone into effect on May 6. Negotiations have been ongoing since April 16.
Protest workers are located in three of ULA's main manufacturing and integration sites. That includes Decatur, Alabama, where most of the rockets are made, as well as Cape Canaveral, Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, two ULA launch locations. Picket lines have already emerged along the doors of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. While this attack is happening, ULA will need to find another way to get its rockets out into space.
A representative of IAMAW says that ULA employees have two main problems with the contract proposed by ULA. One implies stipulations about the trip between the two launch sites. ULA is not released very often outside of Vandenberg, so the company only has a small workforce there. So, every time there is a Vandenberg launch, Florida employees are called to travel to Vandenberg to help with mission operations. Originally, employees only had to be in California for 30 days at a time and then rotated them if necessary.
However, IAMAW claims that the new contract would allow ULA to call Florida employees back to Vandenberg after they had already returned home from a 30-day season. "If you come back, they can send you back," he tells Johnny Walker, IAMAW representative in Cape Canaveral, Florida The Verge. "Family life is gone, and you can not say no".
In addition, IAMAW says that the contract gives ULA the option to outsource any work they want, which means that an employee could be given a full-time job by an outside company at any time. The union sees it as ULA's attempt to reduce the size of its workforce and pay lower wages. "Our guys have incredible certification," says Walker. "We have a perfect record for launching rockets, we have never lost a rocket or we have failed, we were part of the success and now they are changing it and treating us like garbage."
ULA has not answered these specific questions but we regret that the IAM members rejected ULA's last, best and final offer and voted in favor of the strike, "said Tory Bruno, CEO of ULA." We believe that our contract proposed is very competitive with other companies. It is important to note that ULA's final offer contributes to the long-term viability of ULA in an increasingly competitive business environment. "
Meanwhile, ULA said it would be" implementing its strike contingency plans ", Although the company did not explain what they would be … The company is focused on fulfilling all its obligations to its customers, according to the statement The closest mission of ULA is the launch of NASA's Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft that will travel closer The probe is scheduled to launch in late July on the ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. It is not clear if the attack will affect that mission, although there is still a long time to find a resolution.