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SPEEA members reject Spirit's contract offer

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, July 28, 2011, at 8:18 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, July 29, 2011, at 12:08 a.m.

Members of Spirit AeroSystems' professional and technical union rejected the company's offer of a 9.5-year contract Thursday night, but they won't strike.

Instead, SPEEA hopes to return to the bargaining table with the company.

Members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace rejected the contract by 96 percent in a vote of 684-25.

It was the largest defeat of a SPEEA contract at Spirit, the union said.

"I believe the membership today has spoken," SPEEA Midwest director Bob Brewer said after he announced results at SPEEA's headquarters at Lincoln and Oliver on Thursday evening.

In turning down the offer, the members followed the advice of their union officials, who said the long agreement did not provide enough wage protections.

SPEEA represents about 2,300 professional and technical workers at Spirit in Wichita.

"We are very disappointed with this result and will need to take some time to consider what it means and what comes next," Spirit spokesman Ken Evans said in an e-mail.

"It would be difficult to overemphasize how hard the Spirit team has worked to try to achieve a shared understanding and a new model of shared risk and reward," Evans said. "It's clear we are not there."

Now, Evans said, "we need to do some thinking about what comes next."

Union officials said the offer capped salary pools and offered a lower bonus plan than other salaried employees. It also increased the amount employees pay for health insurance from 10 percent of the costs to 20 percent by the end of the contract.

Before a meeting and vote at Century II on Thursday afternoon, Dennis Albright,who works in manufacturing research and development, held a ballot on which he had checked the "no" box against the offer.

He said he rejected the proposal because it was a long-term contract without any raise guarantees.

And "insurance premiums are skyrocketing," Albright said.

Ben Gibbs, a Spirit numerical control programmer, also was voting against the offer.

"The commercial market is going up, and they want to put a cap" on wages, Gibbs said.

He's also concerned about contract language that gives company the option to outsource numerical control programming jobs, he said.

Renee Woodward, a Spirit customer quality specialist, said the offer contained too many what-ifs.

There were no cost-of-living wage increases in the offer, she said.

"If the economy crashes, what do we have?" Woodward said.

She also was opposed to the contract's long length, saying she'd rather have a four-year agreement.

During negotiations, the company has been clear about its goals, "to keep the company healthy, and our team for the future intact," the company said in an e-mail.

The offer contained many of the items SPEEA requested, was fair to employees, offered market-based pay and benefits with shared rewards, job security, stability and flexibility for the long-term, it said.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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