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Union asks Spirit AeroSystems to respond to rumors

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, June 12, 2014, at 7:16 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, June 25, 2014, at 5:12 p.m.

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Spirit AeroSystems’ engineering and professional and technical union has asked the company to respond to rumors that are circulating around the plant concerning talk about a sale of detail parts fabrication and non-Boeing-related assembly work.

The union has been getting a number of calls from employees asking whether the rumors are true, said B.J. Moore, contract administrator for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace in Wichita.

So the union sent a letter including a long list of rumors to Jeff Clark, Spirit’s director of labor relations and workforce strategies.

“We just put together all the rumors employees have been asking us, and we just put it to Spirit to see if they’re going to answer,” Moore said.

Among the rumors addressed in the letter is that GKN Aerospace is buying Spirit’s detail parts fabrication business and all of the non-Boeing assembly work.

SPEEA also asked whether it was true that Boeing was buying assembly work done by Spirit for Boeing’s aircraft programs.

Another rumor according to the e-mailed letter is that all non-Boeing-related assembly work and parts fabrication was being bought by former Spirit CEO Jeff Turner and former Spirit executive Mike King.

“Is there any truth to either of these alleged plans?” the letter asks Clark.

Spirit spokesman Ken Evans said in an e-mailed statement that the company does not deal in rumors or speculate about them.

“There are no company announcements to be made at this time,” Evans said.

Turner, contacted by The Eagle, said the rumor about him was not true.

Boeing declined comment.

SPEEA also asked Spirit about rumors that the company plans to announce the sales and changes about July 2 and that employees working in areas to be divested would have to reapply for their jobs.

It’s also asked Spirit officials to respond to rumors that the company recently added 100 security guards and bought riot gear and Tasers.

The union cited clauses in its labor contracts with Spirit that enable the union to suggest competitive alternatives that might allow the retention of work within the bargaining unit. It must give the union 60 days’ notice of plans to subcontract work that would displace 25 or more bargaining unit employees, the union said in its letter.

SPEEA also cited U.S. Labor law saying that “information about the sale of a part of the business and the potential safety issues created … are relevant to the Union’s duties as collective bargaining agent, and must be provided to us.”

The letter to Clark was signed by SPEEA Midwest Director Bob Brewer. Brewer did not return a call for comment on Thursday.

In August, Spirit said it had put its Oklahoma operations up for sale as it worked to cut costs and react to cost overruns.

GKN, a British aerospace company, has reportedly been interested in the Tulsa work.

In December, a British newspaper reported that GKN had made a bid to buy divisions of Spirit.

Last week, sources, including Todd Tiahrt, who is running to get his 4th Congressional District seat back, said Spirit appears to be exploring the sale of its metal fabrication work to an outside company.

He has been getting calls from concerned employees, he said, including some who told him they had attended meetings about the issue.

The Machinists union, which represents Spirit hourly employees, has also requested information from the company.

“I want to know what their plan is,” said Frank Molina, Machinists District 70 president and directing business representative.

Molina has heard all the rumors.

“We’ve heard a million different rumors,” Molina said. “The thing about it is they are mostly rumors. Are there a few truths in there? Probably. The one thing that I learned is my membership is usually more informed than I am. I’ve been very blunt with my membership telling them that. I find out more from them than the company, and that is the sad truth.”

Spirit has indicated it wants to meet, Molina said.

A meeting is scheduled for the week after next, which doesn’t help deal with the rumors in the short term, he said.

“That just leaves it out there that much longer without having an answer if there are answers to be had,” Molina said.

The Machinists’ labor contract with Spirit gives the union the opportunity to combat decisions to outsource, he said.

Molina wants to be able to answer employees’ questions.

“I just don’t know what we’re talking about,” Molina said. “They are planning to make some kind of changes, but what they are, I don’t know. What the changes are may be miniscule. It may be little or nothing, if anything. We don’t know. We have not gotten into any degree of sharing what their thoughts are, if anything.”

He wants to know if there is a move of the work whether it is for capacity reasons or whether the company is trying to get out of the fabrication business, he said.

In the past, Spirit has moved out work to be able to bring in more work. For example, it moved out some work on window frames to bring in bigger parts, which meant more work, he said.

Spirit’s decisions affect Wichita, Molina said. And the uncertainty is affecting the workforce.

“We’re talking about affecting people’s livelihoods and anytime it affects people’s livelihood, people get emotional,” he said. “We have production numbers to meet, and when the company does stuff like this, that is not conducive to getting the work done.”

He’s had Spirit managers call to ask him to help work with union-represented employees.

“But what answers do I have?” Molina said. “I can’t say ‘Just get back to work. Life is good.’ I don’t know until the company gets back with me.”

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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