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Learjet, Machinists to return to bargaining table

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, at 1:57 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, at 6:24 a.m.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service said Friday that it has asked Bombardier Learjet and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to return to the bargaining table, and that the two sides have agreed.

In a news release, the FMCS said Learjet and the Machinists will resume talks on a collective bargaining agreement, but the timetable was unclear.

“Because of the sensitivity of these negotiations, in keeping with our past custom and practice, and the agreement between the parties, the FMCS and the parties will refrain from any public comment until further notice,” said FMCS director George Cohen in the release.

FMCS did not say when contract negotiations would resume.

“Unfortunately that’s all the information we have at this point,” said FMCS spokesman John Arnold.

Arnold said as is standard with every collective bargaining situation, the FMCS had been monitoring talks between Learjet and the Machinists and took a more active role once talks were halted.

Machinists spokesman Bob Wood said he couldn’t comment – even on a date when negotiations will resume.

“Both sides have agreed not to say anything,” Wood said.

Bombardier Learjet spokeswoman Danielle Boudreau said the company also could not comment.

The union has been on strike since Oct. 8.

Seventy-nine percent of Machinists union members who voted on Oct. 6 rejected the company’s five-year contract offer and voted to strike. The union, Local Lodge 639, represents 825 hourly workers at the west Wichita plant, about one-fourth of the plant’s 3,500 employees.

On its website Friday, Local Lodge 639 posted a copy of the FMCS’ news release with a headline reading, “Negotiations will resume we will keep you updated.”

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, according to union officials, was a significant increase in the workers’ cost of health care.

“Health care is the No. 1 problem,” said Frank Molina, president and directing business representative of Machinists District 70, in an Oct. 6 story. “We shared that at the (negotiating) table.”

Contributing: Molly McMillin of The Eagle

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com.

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