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Machinists vote on Bombardier Learjet contract proposal

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, at 11:54 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, at 10:11 p.m.

Machinists union members at Bombardier Learjet vote Saturday on whether to accept the union’s recommendation to turn down the company’s offer of a labor contract and to strike.

Saturday morning, members who turned out to vote at the Cotillion Ballroom had strike on their minds.

“See you on the strike line,” one called to the other as they prepared to leave.

The union, Local Lodge 639, represents about 825 hourly workers at the Learjet plant in west Wichita.

Polls close at 6 p.m.

“All we ask of the company is a fair and equitable contract,” said Terry Kyle, a 24-year Learjet employee and a member of the union’s negotiating team. “I feel the company didn’t meet these needs.”

The negotiating team took a long time to consider whether to recommend rejection of the proposal, Kyle said. “We don’t take this lightly.”

The company’s five-year proposal retains pensions and offers no raises in the first year and a 1 percent raise in each of the next four years.

The biggest issue, members voting Saturday morning say, is a significant raise in health care costs they would bear if the contract is accepted.

It’s not the money, said one 15-year Learjet employee who did not want to be identified.

It’s the medical insurance.

Under the offer, premiums and out-of-pocket costs go up dramatically, he said.

That will be a big burden on those employees who have medical problems.

Everyone knows medical costs are going up.

“We all have to share it,” he said.

James Miller, a five-year Learjet employee, agrees.

With the proposal, “we went from having excellent insurance to bad insurance,” Miller said

The company “should give us better insurance or (give us) raises to cover the extra costs,” he said.

“If they gave us better insurance, I would opt not to have the raises,” Miller said.

Learjet officials warned when negotiations opened that the company is facing a challenging market for business jets, with layoffs, production rate slowdowns and a pause in Learjet 60 production.

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

A simple majority is needed to accept or reject the contract. Two-thirds of those voting must vote to strike for a work stoppage to take place.

If the contract is rejected, but there are not enough votes to strike, the contract is accepted by default.

If there are enough votes to strike, a work stoppage would begin at 12:01 a.m. Monday, when the current contract expires.

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

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