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Machinists accept Hawker Beechcraft contract offer

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, August 6, 2011, at 4:14 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, August 7, 2011, at 7:06 a.m.

Although many said they didn't like the offer, Machinists union members accepted Hawker Beechcraft's offer of a five-year contract Saturday.

The vote was 69 percent in favor of accepting the contract. Voting took place at Hartman Arena.

"For the times we're in, we got a good agreement," said Steve Rooney, Machinists union District 70 president.

"The outcome tells them that some folks are still concerned with job security," said Rita Rogers, assistant directing business representative for District 70, who called it the biggest issue for union members.

She said the union was able to tighten the contract's job security language. "We haven't stopped all the outsourcing, but we feel like we have control of some," she said.

Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture said in a statement that the company is "pleased with the outcome of today's vote. The partnership between the company and the Union leadership throughout this process has been productive. We look forward to building on this positive relationship throughout the next five years."

Union members were lukewarm to the proposed contract.

"Nobody likes it, but nobody's ready to strike," said one member before a meeting on the offer began.

Another called it "not too bad of a deal," even though health care costs rise in each year of the contract.

"It was fair," said Steve Carley, whose job in Plant I is being outsourced to Mexico. Carley has put in to transfer to other departments.

"I wonder about our jobs and about sending work to Mexico," Carley said.

Union negotiators had recommended members accept the offer.

The union represents about 2,600 hourly workers in Wichita.

It's the third time in three years the union and the company have sat down at the bargaining table.

In 2008, members rejected Hawker Beechcraft's contract offer and walked out on a 25-day strike.

In August 2010, the two sides reopened negotiations as the company flirted with an offer to move its operations to Louisiana.

Members rejected the resulting contract, which contained wage cuts and other concessions, but they did not have the option to strike. The current three-year contract remained in place. It expired at midnight Saturday.

Members said the contract is better than last year's proposal.

"It's not bad," said 13-year worker Ernie Espinosa, holding a copy of the contract outside Hartman Arena.

What concerns him is the added cost of health insurance with no wage increases in the first two years to help offset the cost, he said.

Costs for a family plan will increase substantially, Espinosa said

"It's going to force people to go out and get part-time jobs," he said.

But he's glad to have a job. "There's no way I could afford to go on strike," he said.

John Austin has worked for the company 21 years. He said before a meeting on the contract that he planned to vote against the offer and in favor of a strike.

For him, the sticking point is large increases in health insurance premiums. Insurance costs for a family plan will triple, Austin said, and there is no cap on how much they could pay in premiums

The new contract includes:

* No general wage increases in the first two years, followed by raises of 1 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent in each of the next three years.

* Extended recall rights to laid-off workers.

* Retention of the current vacation accrual schedule and earned time off benefits.

* Retention of the pension plan open to all bargaining unit employees. The company had wanted to eliminate the pension plan for new employees. The pension plan will increase $1 to $52 per month for each year of employment in the contract's fifth year.

* Expansion of workers eligible for a severance package. Employees whose jobs will be cut because of outsourcing at the Wichita facility will receive the severance, whether the work is moving to an outside supplier or to Hawker's plant in Mexico, the company said.

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