ROME ― Workers at Italy’s F-35 assembly line have announced a strike for April 24 to protest the widespread use of employment agency contractors at the site.
Unions planning the one-day strike said 600 staff at Cameri Air Base — where Italy is performing F-35 final assembly work — are working on agency contracts, while only 270 are employed directly by Italian defense firm Leonardo, which runs the site.
“There is no job security for staff,” said Sergio Busca a representative of the UILM union at the site. “Leonardo has long promised to hire them, but we are getting frustrated,” he added.
Owned by the Italian government and operated by state defense firm Leonardo in partnership with Lockheed Martin, Cameri has delivered nine F-35As to the Italian Air Force.
Five are now flying from Italy’s Amendola Air Base and four are involved in pilot training at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.
On March 1, the F-35s at Amendola became operational assets within Italy’s air defense system, the Italian Air Force said.
In January, the first F-35B to be assembled outside the U.S., which is destined to fly with the Italian Navy, was handed over to Italy at Cameri.
Italy is currently due to purchase 60 F-35As and 30 F-35Bs, while Cameri is also due to assemble 29 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
In 2014, the 101-acre base was named by the U.S. Department of Defense as its F-35 Heavy Airframe Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade facility for the European region.
“Leonardo has said the high number of agency staff is normal, but we should have work here for decades with the maintenance activity, so why not hire the staff, given their qualifications?” said Busca.
In a statement, Leonardo said it would start giving the staff full time positions this year. It put the number of agency staff at 520.
The promise has not convinced workers at Cameri, who organized an overtime ban last Saturday as an initial protest, which Busca said was widely adhered to.
Unions have organized an assembly on Monday, he added.
“The strike is planned for Tuesday, on the same day Leonardo has invited us for talks,” he said. “It is possible that at the assembly staff may vote to delay the strike in order to hear what the firm has to say. But if we don’t hear about hirings, the strike will be on,” he said.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.