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Machinists union, Bombardier Learjet far apart on contract

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, at 9:06 p.m.

Bombardier Learjet and the Machinists union are light years apart on a proposal for a new labor contract, union officials said at a union rally in Old Town on Tuesday.

In fact, the company’s contract proposal is the worst that Machinists aerospace coordinator Ron Eldridge said he has ever seen in “takeaways” in his years of negotiating contracts.

The company’s proposal freezes current pension plans and replaces them with a 401(k). And it includes large increases in health care costs.

It’s also an eight-year agreement with no wage increases in the first three years and 1 percent increases in each of the next five years.

“Starting tomorrow, you better wake management up,” Machinists aerospace coordinator Ron Eldridge told union members. “They need to understand right now that you will take them on, and you will shut this factory down.”

Bombardier Learjet negotiators presented their proposal on the economic portion of the contract to the union on Monday. The union replied on Tuesday.

Union negotiators are waiting for a response back from the company.

“Brothers and sisters, Montreal has decided they’re going to shove you around,” Eldridge said.

With the rally, the union hopes to “open their eyes up” so company negotiators will be more realistic at the bargaining table, said Frank Molina, directing business representative of the Machinists District 70.

Members gathered at the Pumphouse in Old Town, across from the Courtyard by Marriott Wichita, where the talks are taking place. Union members blew whistles, chanted and carried signs that read, “No Pension, No Planes,” “Affordable Health Care,” “Union Proud” and “Learjet Employees Deserve Better.”

The Machinists Local Lodge 639 represents 825 hourly workers at the Wichita Learjet plant.

Members will vote on Bombardier’s final offer from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Cotillion Ballroom. A meeting about the offer is planned for 9 a.m.

The company, on a website set up to give information about the talks, said it’s analyzing the union’s counterproposal and will respond.

“Bombardier Learjet continues to be committed to the negotiation process and looks forward to finding a resolution that is equitable to both parties,” it said on the website.

The union wants to have the company’s final offer to members at least one day before Saturday’s vote, Molina said.

The current three-year contract expires Oct. 8.

Bombardier Learjet vice president and general manager Ralph Acs has warned that the company is facing the reality of a continued challenging market. During the last round of talks in 2009, the company thought that an economic recovery was imminent.

But the industry has been faced with slow sales in the U.S. and abroad.

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

In the last round of negotiations three years ago, the company didn’t propose to eliminate the pension plan, even in the opening proposal, Molina said.

The company’s proposal is not realistic, said Dave, a 24-year Learjet employee, who declined to give his last name.

“We’re giving up too much,” Dave said. “We took concessions in ’03 and still haven’t fully recovered from that. They want more takeaways.”

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

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