ULA machinists’ strike won’t affect local facility

HARLINGEN — A strike by a key United Launch Alliance union at three facilities will have no immediate impact on the space firm’s local facility at Valley International Airport, company officials said yesterday.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) went off the job Sunday at Decatur, Alabama, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The machinists union voted to break off negotiations which began April 16 and reject what the company said was a fair and final contract offer.

“We’re disappointed that the IAM members rejected ULA’s last, best and final offer and voted to strike,” Tory Bruno, ULA president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We believe our proposed contract is very competitive with other companies. Importantly, ULA’s final offer contributes to ULA’s long term viability in an increasingly competitive launch business environment.”

That space launch competition now includes companies such as ArianeGroup, Blue Origin, SpaceX, Virgin Orbit, Stratoland Systems and Orbital ATK.

ULA officials said the plan is for operations to remain open at all non-striking sites, including Harlingen. “ULA will implement its strike contingency plans while focusing on meeting its commitments to our customers,” the company statement said.

The Harlingen facility’s specialty is the Atlas launch vehicle, one of the most dependable rockets since its inception in 2002. ULA is now transitioning to its new Vulcan launch vehicle, and officials with UAW Local 2346 in Harlingen have said Vulcan production work would be performed at other facilities.

Launch costs for ULA’s Delta IV heavy launcher are about $350 million per launch, far more expensive than SpaceX’s reusable Falcon Heavy system at $90 million. ULA’s new Vulcan system consists of a partly reusable launcher that should make the launch system more competitive financially.

The company reports it had offered a $6,000 ratification bonus per worker to the IAM rank-and-file, along with a three-year contract with raises of 1.5 percent, 1.75 percent and 2 percent over the life of the pact.

Union officials countered that the nearly 600 IAM members working at the space company believe they should be rewarded for the glittering safety record which ULA uses to market its launch services.

Union spokesman Jody Bennett said the strike action by the machinists union would not affect operations at the Harlingen facility. Asked if any bargaining sessions had been scheduled with ULA management, he said there were none on the horizon.

“At this point — no,” he said yesterday.

Emails for comment on the impact on the Harlingen facility to ULA’s corporate offices in Colorado were not returned yesterday.