June Editorial WInner

The beast is tamed

JEFF MULLIN, Enid News & Eagle

Like the advice young Benjamin received in the film "The Graduate," outgoing Vance Air Force Base wing commander Col. Russ Mack has one word of wisdom for his successor. Only in this case, that word is not plastics, but contract.
"We're not contract specialists, that's not our bailiwick," Mack said. "But it's a beast."
Indeed it is. Vance was the first base to employ contractors to do aircraft maintenance and base operating services back in 1960, and has the largest contract in Air Education and Training Command today, worth about a half-billion dollars.
That "beast" was tamed a bit Sunday evening when union members voted overwhelmingly to approve a new three-year collective bargaining agreement with prime contractor CSC Applied Technologies LLC and three subcontractors.
Members of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 898 approved the new pact 426-84, an 84 percent margin, ending a long week of negotiations.
No one wanted a repeat of 2009, when a 15-day strike disrupted the flying mission at Vance and put a black mark next to the base's name in the minds of many.
Both sides deserve credit for approaching the negotiations with a feeling of mutual respect- not agreeing on every detail, to be sure, but accepting that negotiating involves vigorous give and take on both sides of the table.
Not only will the new agreement mean higher wages and pension benefits for the some 800 employees who work for esc and sub-contractors DenMar Services, M1 Support Services and PRI/DJI, but it also will save the government money.
Under the new agreement, employees will have a choice of health, dental and vision insurance under the auspices of IAM Benefit Trust, a move expected to save the government thousands of dollars.
Since 2009, the union and contractors have worked to improve relations between management and workers. In 2010, they recommitted themselves to the High Performance Work Organization agreement first enacted in 2004, that has workers and management working together to make decisions at every level.
Contract employees also recently passed a Logistics Compliance Assessment Program inspection, which measures how well they do their jobs.
Rick Boardman, president of lAMAW Local Lodge 898, seemed to sum it up best when he said, ''This has been a big year at Vance. Things are good out there."
Not that there won't be challenges ahead.
The military still faces drastic budget cuts if the so-called end-of-year "sequestration" measures aren't forestalled by Congress. Military communities also face the specter of another Base Realignment and Closure round looming in the next few years.
Now would not have been a good time for labor strife. We salute both the union and the companies involved for reaching a solution that benefits everyone.