It was five a.m. and still dark when I woke up this morning to hit a picket line. The stars looked crisp and clear through my new glasses.
Here is the story I wrote to accompany the photo:
About 130 union picketers massed at the La Luz Gate of Holloman Air Force Base on Thursday morning to protest what they see as unfair labor practices by their employer — TRAX International.
About 300 members of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge No. 2515 have been on strike since April 1 and are picketing in shifts, 24 hours a day.
“We’re out here because of TRAX International,” Jay Jaramillo, directing business representative for the union, said. “We had negotiations and what they did is they refused to give us anything when it came to benefits.”
Jaramillo said a sticking point in the negotiations was a proposal calling for mandated furlough days. Employees would have either had to go without pay during that time or, if they wanted pay, they’d have to apply their own vacation days, according to a Las Cruces Sun-News story.
On Thursday, the picketers chanted “TRAX is off Track,” to all vehicles entering at La Luz Gate, the occasional driver honking in support or giving the thumbs up.
Union members have also been picketing near St. Augustin Pass near Las Cruces.
Jaramillo said the employees hold a wide variety of positions for TRAX — including research and testing, optics, technicians, electronic techs and carpenters.
He said employees want better health care costs and a fair wage.
“The people out here, they believe that they mean something,” Jaramillo said. “And the company really doesn’t think they do. And its the disrespect the company is showing these guys that’s why they’re out here.”
He said the company has hired less skilled replacement workers and people in management positions are still on the job.
Jaramillo said employees have prohibitively high health insurance costs, some having a $6,000 deductible that prevents them from seeing doctors.
“How can you get a single mother like some of the people who are out here that can even afford to take their kids and their family to the doctor,” he said. “Those are the kind of things these people are mad about.”
Jaramillo said employees use government vehicles but are being told by management that they can’t be on the clock even when they are driving the vehicles for TRAX.
“These are the things these guys are really torqued off about,” he said. “They are loyal to the company.”
He said pay raises over the last six years have not come close to the cost of living, saying TRAX has said it can not afford it, even while it is turning a profit.
TRAX issued a new release that stated it submitted a proposed three-year contract on March 27 after three weeks of negotiations.
The offer included annual raises of 2.5 percent, annual increases to the pension fund, an increase in annual sick leave from 53 to 80 hours, health, vision and dental coverage with 80 percent of premiums paid by TRAX and an annual subsidy of $1,000 to help offset the employee portion of the insurance premium, the release states.
“TRAX strongly believes that its offer appropriately balanced the need to fairly compensate and recognize the value of its employees with the need to remain a competitive option for both current and future work at White Sands Missile Range,” the release states.
According to the release, TRAX was disappointed by the union’s decision to reject the contract and go on strike.
“While TRAX remains willing to meet and negotiate with the union, TRAX has also implemented contingency plans designed to enable TRAX to continue to service its customer for the foreseeable future and maintain its position as a premiere Department of Defense contractor at White Sands Missile Range,” according to the release.
Jaramillo said he hoped to get back to the negotiating table on Thursday, but everything remained uncertain.
“As you go back and negotiate, some things are never sure,” he said. “We play it by ear and we play it a day at a time. These people are willing to stay out as long as it takes. … They have the heart.”