TITUSVILLE, Fla. - For the first time in recent memory, TWU Kennedy Space Center firefighters are prepared to strike.
Their contract expired seven months ago and now they say the NASA contractor over fire and rescue operations is trying to cut retirement benefits and get rid of sick leave.
Firefighters told Channel 9’s Mel Holt they’re still hoping to make a deal that will allow them to protect the space center without sacrificing their livelihoods.
“We don't want to be on the street. We don't want to be picketing. We don't want to leave the Kennedy Space Center unprotected from these fireman,” said Kevin Smith, union president.
KSC firefighters unanimously voted down a proposed contract Friday and authorized union leadership to call a strike after Transport Workers Union president Smith described as an unconscionable offer from NASA’s fire rescue contractor, Chenega Infinity.
“In the company's last and best offer, they have proposed an 80 percent reduction in our retirement benefits and a 100% reduction in sick leave. These firemen deserve sick leave; they deserve the ability to retire with dignity,” said Smith.
KSC's firefighters handle everything from launches to emergency services for employees and facilities throughout the space center.
But without a better contract offer, Smith said many of the agency's nearly 80 firefighters may choose to work elsewhere.
“I've got to do something my family can't afford what's going to happen and I can no longer be a firefighter past the age of 55,” said Lt. Mike Herndon, a firefighter.
The union is now asking NASA to intervene on firefighters' behalf and is also appealing to lawmakers for help.
NASA said it is aware of the dispute.
"In accordance with Federal regulation and Agency policy, NASA has and will continue to remain neutral and impartial concerning any dispute between the parties," the agency said in a statement.