The Machinists union, in an attempt to keep jobs in Wichita, said Friday that it will reopen negotiations next week with Hawker Beechcraft Corp., a year before the current contract expires.
"If we can't reach an agreement, the company is going to move the production lines to other states and Mexico," Machinists aerospace coordinator Ron Eldridge said. He said the company has told the union of its intentions in previous meetings.
"Once they start moving production lines, they've told us in three to five years, they'll be nothing left," Eldridge said. "All the marbles are on the table."
Company officials would not comment directly. In a statement, Hawker Beechcraft said:
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"We have been very open about these discussions being vitally important to the future presence of Hawker Beechcraft in Wichita."
Negotiations are scheduled to open Thursday. The union represents 2,400 hourly workers at Hawker Beechcraft.
"We continue to experience unprecedented times for the business and general aviation industry worldwide and in Wichita," Hawker Beechcraft said in its statement. Meetings with the union in the last several months to discuss challenges and potential solutions have been frank and constructive, it said.
"As we begin this process, we are confident these discussions will continue to focus on all aspects that are required to strengthen Hawker Beechcraft and sustain it for the future," the statement said.
The company has been exploring ways to cut costs in an economy that has battered the general aviation industry. It's asking the union for cost savings, flexibility and a longer-term agreement to be more competitive, the union said. The Machinists recently signed a 10-year contract with Spirit AeroSystems.
Union leaders said the union alone can't save jobs. They say it will take help from city, county and state officials as well.
"Kansas is going to have to wake up," said Machinists union District 70 president Steve Rooney. "These states are throwing a lot of cash and doing everything they can to take jobs."
Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture told The Eagle last month that the company is considering moving work out of Wichita and opening a facility in Mississippi or Louisiana. It's also looking at options outside the U.S.
A series of decisions, including Wichita's future role, will be made over the next six months, Boisture said.
The company announced in November plans to close its Salina plant and send the work to Mexico and to outside suppliers.
With an economy that's not creating jobs, states are trying to buy them by offering big pools of money and incentives, union leaders said.
"We've never seen a state trying to lure factories into their state so hard," Rooney said.
It's not yet known how long negotiations will last. But at least one state has given the company a deadline, union officials said.
"We don't have forever," Eldridge said.
Union members will vote whether to accept any new agreement. Acceptance will take a simple majority of those voting.
If members reject the offer, the current agreement stays in place until it expires next August. They will not vote on whether to strike.
Since Boisture made his comments last month, local and state leaders — including Gov. Mark Parkinson — have met with Hawker Beechcraft to see what can be done to keep work in Wichita.
"If we can get close to what we need with Hawker Beechcraft, we can go to the Legislature to fill the gap," Parkinson told The Eagle last month, even if it means calling a special session of the Legislature. That's as long as it makes economic sense to do so, he said.
In the meantime, Eldridge says the union will give it "everything we can. This is about whether there's going to be general aviation in Wichita or not."