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Machinists union, Bombardier Learjet continue contract talks

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Sep. 12, 2012, at 5:57 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Sep. 12, 2012, at 11:17 p.m.

Labor negotiations between Bombardier Learjet and Machinists Local Lodge No. 639 are continuing this week with a vote on a new contract a little more than three weeks away.

The union represents 825 hourly workers at the Learjet facility in west Wichita. The current three-year contract expires Oct. 8. A vote on the company’s new proposal is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 6.

The talks come amid a sustained difficult market for business jet sales.

The company is committed to an agreement that recognizes employee contributions and positions them and the company for “prosperous growth” and long-term job stability, Bombardier Learjet vice president and general manager Ralph Acs said in remarks as contract talks began last week.

“We believe that both parties have essentially the same goals: to have a safe, healthy, engaged and effective workforce,” and a workforce that has the tools and processes needed to produce products customers demand, Acs said in remarks posted on a Learjet website.

“We just hope that it ends up being a fair and equitable agreement,” said Frank Molina, president and directing business representative of Machinists District 70. The union is proposing a three-year agreement.

Acs has warned that there are realities the company faces. During the last round of negotiations in 2009, the company thought that an economic recovery was imminent, he said. But it continues to be “extremely challenging.”

The Learjet plant has experienced layoffs and production rate slowdowns as a result. A weak market led to the recent pause in Learjet 60 business jet production.

“The Learjet 60 production line pause has the potential to negatively impact a substantial portion of our workforce, and we want to continue working together to minimize that impact, understanding that job security and skills retention are a concern for both parties,” Acs said in the remarks.

At the same time medical costs are high and continued escalation at the current rates is unsustainable, he said. It’s the same with pension costs.

The union and Learjet are now working to finish up non-economic issues before beginning talks on economic ones, Molina said.

“We haven’t seen the full picture yet,” he said.

If there are layoffs, Molina said, the union wants to ensure that contract labor leaves the facility before employees represented by the bargaining group.

“We definitely are trying to make sure this company has the ability to stay around,” he said. “It’s for the better of all of us.”

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

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