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Machinists vote to strike at Bombardier Learjet

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, at 7:41 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, at 10:11 p.m.

Bombardier Learjet’s hourly workforce will walk off the job Monday after Machinists union members rejected the company’s contract offer and voted to strike.

Union members voted Saturday 79 percent in favor of rejecting the company’s proposal of a five-year contract, which offered significant increases in health care costs and low general wage increases, and 79 percent in favor of a strike.

Strikers will begin walking the picket line at 12:01 a.m. Monday, when the current three-year contract expires.

The company said in a statement it will work toward minimizing disruption to its production lines, its customers and the community. Neither side would predict when negotiations might resume.

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

It’s the second strike in the plant’s history. The first was in 2006, when the Machinists struck for three weeks.

“All we ask of the company is a fair and equitable contract,” said Terry Kyle, president of Local Lodge 639 and a member of the union’s negotiating team. “The company didn’t want to give that to us.”

The company’s five-year proposal offered no raises in the first year and a 1 percent raise in each of the following four years.

The major sticking point, however, was a significant raise in the cost of health care the contract would bring them, members said Saturday.

“Health care is the No. 1 problem,” said Frank Molina, president and directing business representative of Machinists District 70. “We shared that at the (negotiating) table.”

Bombardier is a Canadian company, and Canada has national health care, Molina said.

“We don’t think they understand how big an issue it is with us,” he said.

The union has had to take many concessions in the past, Molina said. Health care was the breaking point, he said, calling the strike a “last-ditch effort.”

Bombardier Learjet spokeswoman Peggy Gross said the company is disappointed with the outcome.

“We felt like it was a fair and equitable offer, and it was the best thing for the long-term success of our company and employees,” Gross said.

The company will put in place a strike plan in place.

“We are prepared to go back to work on Monday and build aircraft and support our customers,” Gross said.

The goal is to get back to the negotiating table with the union as soon as possible.

“Our team is wanting to work with them,” she said.

It’s too soon to say when talks may resume.

Molina said he hopes the union and company return to the bargaining table soon, and that the strike isn’t long.

“But you never know,” he said.

Nobody wants to strike, Rayma Rowland, a planner and 24-year Learjet employee, said after the results were announced Saturday evening at the Machinists District 70 building on south Meridian. “But sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do to make things right. This is too important.”

Katie Yaverski-Moneyhun, a 34-year employee and Learjet spare parts specialist, said she’s been saving money this year in preparation.

“It’s a contract year,” Yaverski-Moneyhun said. “You start saving. Hopefully you don’t have to use it this way. But just in case.”

Employees have been giving up “more and more and more,” she said. “There comes a time, enough’s enough. If we give it up, we’re never going to get it back.”

It’s not the money, said one 15-year Learjet employee and union member who did not want to be identified. Under the offer, premiums and out-of-pocket costs go up dramatically, he said.

Everyone knows medical costs are going up. “We all have to share it,” he said.

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

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.

According to the union, the plan would eliminate two HMOs and more than double employees’ share of premiums.

The family rate would increase from $76 a pay period to $161 a pay period, the union said. And the rates aren’t capped.

Prescription drug costs would also increase and other costs would rise.

For example, under the current HMO plan, an employee would pay a $100 co-pay for emergency room treatment. That would increase to a $100 co-pay, a $250 deductible and 20 percent of the bill under a point-of-service plan under the company’s proposal.

Learjet officials warned when negotiations opened that the company faces 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.

Nobody wins in a strike, said the union member who didn’t want to be identified.

“We’re going to lose money,” he said. “They’re going to lose productivity money.”

The company has to make money, he said. “That has to happen.”

But helping employees will help the company, too, he said.

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

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