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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
BAE union workers flank a drone protester in front of the BAE Systems plant on Taylor Street on Thursday afternoon. The plant says it doesn’t make drones.

Union counters BAE drone protest

Nine people gathered Thursday outside the BAE Systems plant on Taylor Street to protest the manufacture of drones by the company.

On the same sidewalk, eight union workers at BAE staged their own demonstration in support of their employer.

“If you are going to protest, protest in the right place,” Brent Eastom, president of IUE-CWA Local 901, said in an interview. “You are protesting a plant that doesn’t even make drones.”

Although the British company does manufacture remotely controlled, unmanned aircraft commonly known as drones, its Fort Wayne operation designs and builds electronic controls used mostly in commercial aircraft.

“We don’t even know exactly what plants are manufacturing drone components,” protest organizer Dave Lambert of Fort Wayne said outside the plant, which employs 1,100 people. “That’s all pretty classified information. For all I know, they may be making them here and even the workers don’t know it. So we came here because BAE is part of the greater BAE international.”

Contacted later, plant spokesman Jeff Benzing said, “We are not involved in drone production.” Benzing said roughly 90 percent of the components produced in Fort Wayne are for commercial planes, with the remainder used in military fighter jets and helicopters.

The protest was part of “April Days of Action,” which was organized by a coalition of anti-war groups that oppose the use of drones for military and surveillance purposes. Similar protests were planned this week around the country at defense contractors, military bases and universities involved in drone research.

On Thursday, local protesters held signs urging “Ground the Drones” and “Stop Making Drones.” Union workers countered with posters that said “BAE Systems: We Protect Those Who Protect Us.”

Eastom said the protesters should have been on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., objecting to federal laws and policies that allow unmanned aircraft.

“We support their right to freedom of speech. We want to make sure it is informed freedom of speech,” said Eastom, adding that the protest could “potentially endanger the reputation” of the local plant.

Protester JoAnne Lingle of Indianapolis said to Eastom, “It’s not the wrong company, it’s the wrong location.”

Later, in an interview, Lingle said: “I don’t think we’re on the same page here. And I do understand (the workers’ views). We are pro-union and pro-good jobs.”