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Boeing presents options to employees in anticipation of plant’s closure

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, March 21, 2012, at 2:10 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

Boeing Wichita managers have begun to work with its more than 2,100 employees following January’s announcement that the company will close the Wichita facility by the end of 2013.

Workers have met individually with their managers in an initial round of conversations, said Boeing spokesman Forrest Gossett.

“We wanted everyone to know where they stood in relation to their jobs,” Gossett said. “We’re working with our employees to give them a better sense of the future.”

Boeing announced plans to close the Wichita facility and move engineering and program management work to Oklahoma City and maintenance work to San Antonio. Tanker finishing work that was planned for Wichita will now go to the Puget Sound area in Washington state.

Some employees have been offered relocation packages. Others may be offered packages at a later time. To date, no mechanics have been offered relocation opportunities because the company is still evaluating its needs.

“This is a fluid process. We’re not going to discuss specific numbers,” Gossett said.

“This is the first round, and we are determining what our staffing needs are going to be once we start placing the upgrade work on the airplanes elsewhere.”

That work will primarily go to San Antonio.

Some hourly employees represented by the Machinists union have received a letter notifying them that their positions have been identified as a “program support resource,” responsible for completion of “remaining program or site statement of work,” the letter said. “As a result, your position will become surplus once the remaining work has been completed.”

The employees’ last day will depend on program requirements and union seniority, the letter said.

Gossett said he couldn’t comment on the letter.

It’s unclear how many of the hourly workers received the letter. A Machinists union representative said he thought that most of them did.

Boeing is planning to conduct internal and external job fairs to help evaluate what opportunities will be available, the letter said. The company will have a number of resources available to employees, including retirement seminars, relocation seminars and resume-writing classes.

“We’re working to take care of our employees to make sure they understand what their options are,” Gossett said. “At the same time, we’re meeting our obligations to our customers.”

On Monday, Boeing engineers will vote on whether to accept an agreement with the company on results of negotiations between the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace and the company regarding the effects of the closure of the site on the workers. SPEEA represents 550 Wichita engineers.

Members may vote from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday in the 190Z auditorium at Boeing. Only members may vote, but the meeting is open to all represented engineers.

SPEEA’s negotiating team recommends acceptance of the agreement, which includes a contract extension. The offer is the result of weeks of talks, the union said.

“Our goal was to provide as much of a soft landing for every engineer that we could,” Joe Newberry, council chairman of SPEEA’s Wichita Engineering Unit, said in a statement.

“Although not all objectives were met, we believe significant progress and improvements were made to transition through this difficult time,” the union said on its website.

Gossett said the company thinks the agreement is positive for employees.

“The agreement outlines benefits that will help our employees as they decide on their future,” Gossett said.

The agreement includes a two-year extension through Dec. 20, 2015. It also provides engineers:

•  Three weeks to consider and respond to an offer to relocate.

•  No forfeiture of benefits or rights if they decline to relocate and are laid off. That includes employees who decline immediately or accept relocation but change their mind at a later date.

•  Placement on a recall list for laid-off employees.

•  Payment of vacation time in excess of two years maximum accrual.

•  Payment of straight time plus $15 an hour for overtime in excess of 144 hours in a quarter.

In addition, it provides language related to those who choose to retire, retiree medical benefits, pensions and other issues.

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

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