Boeing and its engineering union have begun “effects bargaining” to negotiate the impact Boeing’s closure of its Wichita plant will have on its engineers.
The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, which represents about 540 Wichita engineers, met with Boeing officials late last week. The two groups will meet again Monday and Tuesday.
“We’re having really, really good discussions right now,” SPEEA Midwest director Bob Brewer said Wednesday. “There’s 30 or 40 issues we’re working through. … We don’t have anything buttoned up yet. We’re very close on some issues. Covering every little thing … is taking some time. (But) we’re getting where we need to go.”
In January, Boeing announced plans to close its Wichita site by the end of 2013. Engineering and program management work now done in Wichita will move to its Oklahoma City site, the company said, while maintenance work will move to San Antonio. Tanker completion work planned for Wichita will now go to the Puget Sound area.
Boeing Wichita engineers will be notified in mid-March whether they will have a job offer with another Boeing location or be laid off, SPEEA said. It’s not yet known how many people will be offered jobs at other sites, Brewer said.
The site will be shut down in phases, and an employee’s date for leaving the facility will be roughly aligned to the transfer of the specific work packages, SPEEA said.
“It’s going to be a real fluid environment,” Brewer said. “There’s going to be some people who get offers who don’t want to relocate.”
Others who don’t initially get offers may get them later.
Some employees may be offered relocation packages and incentives. Those discussions will be ongoing, SPEEA said.
One of the biggest issues in negotiations is whether the engineers moving to another location will retain a retiree medical benefit they now receive.
“We’re trying to nail that down,” Brewer said.
The benefit gives Boeing workers who retire at age 55 and meet eligibility requirements medical insurance until they become eligible for Medicare.
“It impacts a lot of people,” Brewer said. Not having the benefit guaranteed could influence an engineer’s decision on whether to move to Oklahoma City or San Antonio, he said.
The average age of Boeing’s engineers in Wichita is almost 50, he said.
“We’ve got over a third of our engineers that could retire today,” Brewer said.