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Machinists union recommends members reject Learjet contract offer

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, at 8:49 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, at 10:11 p.m.

More information

Summary of proposal

Contract length: five years

Wage increases: None in the first year; 1 percent increases in the other four years.

Lump sum payments: Year 1: $1,500; Year 2: $1,000; Year 3: $500; in years 4 and 5, potential payouts through an employee incentive plan.

Medical: Eliminates two HMO plans; 70/30 premium share on point-of-service plans and health savings account plans.

Pension: Year 1: Increases from $50 to $52.50 per month per year of service

A strike may be looming at Bombardier Learjet.

Machinists union negotiators are recommending that members reject the company’s labor proposal and vote Saturday for a work stoppage.

Bombardier Learjet presented the union with its final contract proposal about midnight Wednesday.

The offer, a five-year agreement, gives no raises in the first year and a 1 percent raise in each of the four years after.

It retains pension plans for the represented workers, but increases health care costs dramatically, said union spokesman Bob Wood.

A main sticking point is the increase in health insurance costs, Wood said. The union also dislikes the length of the contract.

Throughout negotiations, the company has noted a continued weak business jet market, Wood said.

That will turn around eventually, he said.

“They’re trying to lock us in," Wood said.

He said a three-year agreement would be more reasonable because the market could be reassessed at that time.

Bombardier Learjet spokeswoman Peggy Gross said the company is disappointed with the union’s recommendation to reject the contract and to strike.

“The company put forward what we thought was a fair and reasonable proposal for employees trying to ensure the long-term potential and success of Learjet as well as taking care of our employees,” Gross said.

Bombardier Learjet vice president and general manager Ralph Acs warned the union when talks opened that the company faces the realities of an “extremely challenging” market with layoffs, production rate slowdowns and a pause in Learjet 60 production.

At the same time, medical and pension costs are high.

Bombardier Learjet negotiators presented union officials with their final offer about midnight Wednesday. Union leaders were in the plant Thursday talking to workers.

Union officials said the top issues for the membership are medical costs containment, job security, pension improvements and general wage increases.

The union’s Local Lodge 639 represents 825 hourly workers at Bombardier’s Learjet plant in west Wichita.

The union went out on strike for three weeks in 2006, the first work stoppage in the plant’s history.

The contract expiring now was approved in 2009, in the midst of the economic downturn; the union approved the company’s offer with 95 percent of its votes. That contract included wage increases of 2 percent in the first year and 3 percent in years two and three. It also increased pensions slightly.

Union members are scheduled to vote at the Cotillion Ballroom on Saturday.

Acceptance of the contract takes 50 percent of the vote plus one. For a strike to occur, two-thirds of the membership must vote for a work stoppage.

If the contract is rejected, but there aren’t enough votes to strike, the offer is accepted by default.

If the offer is rejected and a strike approved, a work stoppage would begin Monday.

The company has put together a strike contingency plan, but hopes it doesn’t have to use it, said Bombardier Learjet’s Gross.

In the event there is a work stoppage, “we are planning to continue to support our production line and deliver our aircraft,” Gross said.

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

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