In 1943, the United States War Production Commission wanted to highlight the important role that the domestic workforce was playing in our nation's war effort.
It commissioned artist J. Howard Miller to design a poster illustrating the direct contribution that service on the factory line made to service on the front line of World War II. On Feb. 15 of that year, Rosie the Riveter rolled up her sleeves and declared "We Can Do It!"
Today we find ourselves in a profoundly different kind of war, but the message of Rosie the Riveter still holds true. The commitment, sacrifice and skill of the American worker remain keys to our success on the battlefield. For evidence, look no further than Stratford, Connecticut.
Stratford is home to Sikorsky Aircraft's main production facility. More than 3,600 members of Teamsters Local 1150 work at that plant assembling and refurbishing key military aircraft, including the Army's Black Hawk helicopter. These home-front heroes take tremendous pride in their work and possess a profound appreciation for their role in ensuring the safety of every soldier who boards a Black Hawk.
When Sikorsky and its parent company -- United Technologies Corporation (UTC) -- informed their workers that the Stratford facility would be ramping up in response to the war effort, the Teamsters at Local 1150 answered the call. They increased productivity, boosted output and adapted quickly to production changes necessitated by the conversion to a nonstop wartime footing.
Unfortunately, while the words "We Can Do It!" resounded on the factory floor, quite a different attitude was in effect behind the closed doors of UTC's boardroom. Instead of acknowledging and rewarding Sikorsky's workers for stepping up to the plate, UTC is putting the screws to them.
Right now, America's defense contractors -- including Sikorsky -- are racking up record profits. So why is Sikorsky trying to force 3,600 workers in Connecticut and Florida to pay double for necessary health care?
This isn't about money, because Sikorsky has plenty. In fact, Sikorsky says these 3,600 striking workers should pay more because they need to know how much health care costs.
Under the workers' current health plan, the out-of-pocket cost for a woman delivering a child is $630. That would almost triple to $1,600 under the plan Sikorsky is trying to shove down their throats.
Teamsters know health care costs are rising, and the Sikorsky workers offered to reduce wage increases and a signing bonus to hold onto their current benefits -- an offer the company flatly refused.
It is unconscionable that the rich get richer and regular Americans can't even hold onto basic health care benefits. George David, the head of UTC, doesn't have a problem paying more for his health care. Why? Let's take a look at the numbers:
- In 2005, David was paid $53.6 million in salary, bonus and stock options.
- In 2004, he raked in $13.4 million in compensation and cashed out $83.6 million in stock options -- leaving him with a mere $155.6 million in stock options yet to be cashed out.
- In 2005, UTC earned a whopping $3.07 billion in profits, up from a paltry $2.67 billion in 2004.
In fact, things are only looking up for Sikorsky. Fourth-quarter earnings skyrocketed 33 percent, and the company has an estimated $9.1 billion in defense contracts. Last year UTC bought back $1.2 billion of its own stock -- a record level that it expects to increase to $1.5 billion this year.
That's why, on Feb. 20, Teamsters at Local 1150 went on strike. These hardworking, patriotic men and women aren't shooting for the moon -- just affordable health care.
Exploiting workers in the name of corporate greed isn't just wrong; it's un-American.
Follow James P. Hoffa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Teamsters