Firefighters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center unanimously voted down a proposed contract and authorized union leadership to call a strike, the firefighters’ union announced Friday.
Approximately 80 firefighters, represented by Transport Workers Union Local 525, have been forced to take this drastic action because their private-contractor employer, Chenega Infinity, seeks to completely eliminate their paid sick leave and decimate their retirement plan, Local 525 president Kevin Smith said.
“It is unconscionable that first-responders who put their lives on the line for their country and this very important national program are being treated like this,” Smith said. “We are calling on our federal, state and local elected officials to intervene and stand up for these brave first responders.”
Local 525 members took the strike authorization vote in three groups over the week with the last taking place this morning, Friday March 2nd.
The TWU firefighters provide emergency services for employees and facilities throughout the Space Center. Trained as paramedics and firefighters, these workers provide ambulance, fire, and hazardous materials response to emergencies ranging from onsite car accidents, to fuel leaks on launch pads, and even catastrophic events.
Local 525 members have been providing these services for the Space Center for nearly 60 years, working with various contract companies. In 2016, Chenega Infinity submitted a bid to NASA’s Request for Proposals to provide contract firefighting and protective services for the Space Center. Chenega Infinity won the bid and became the new employer of TWU members.
Since August 2017, Local 525 has been negotiating its first collective bargaining agreement with the company, working to obtain a fair and reasonable agreement to ensure these firefighters continue to receive proper pay, benefits, and retirement security. Chenega recently submitted a final offer, which includes zero paid sick leave (which is unheard of in this industry) and a drastic reduction in contributions to the firefighters’ retirement plan (another drastic departure from industry standards).
“It’s clear that Chenega Infinity has no respect for the heroic – and often life-saving work of NASA’s firefighters,” TWU International President John Samuelsen said. “Chenega Infinity is trying to strip NASA firefighters of paid sick time. This will force emergency responders into work with the Flu and other illnesses. This is a potential disaster for NASA and for our firefighters.”
The authorization vote empowers union leaders to call a strike if necessary, Smith said. The union is still willing to negotiate if the company is willing to negotiate in good faith, Smith said.
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