Boeing offer disappoints Machinists in second round of relocation talks

09/19/2012 4:36 PM

08/08/2014 10:12 AM

Boeing held a second round of meetings for Boeing Machinists in Wichita to talk about job opportunities at its San Antonio maintenance facility as it prepares to close its plant in Wichita.

All hourly workers were invited to meetings held Tuesday and Wednesday.

Wednesday’s 10 a.m. meeting was standing-room-only, said Machinists District 70 assistant directing business representative Becky Ledbetter, who attended.

Boeing did not improve the offer from the first round of meetings for workers, union members said.

“The employees were disappointed,” Ledbetter said. “Nobody’s embracing this.”

Boeing announced plans in January to close the Wichita facility by the end of 2013 because of high overhead costs as programs wind down. Company officials said that with government budget cuts, there was little hope of bringing in new work.

Boeing plans to move engineering and program management work to Oklahoma City and maintenance work to San Antonio.

Boeing officials have said that they expect employment in San Antonio to grow by about 400, some of that through job transfers.

But not many hourly employees are interested in taking jobs in San Antonio, said a union member who declined to be identified in the story because of the sensitivity of the topic.

“Nobody really wants to go to a nonunion facility,” the member said.

The offers are for salaried positions as leads to train the San Antonio workers, he said.

“People don’t want to train the San Antone people for our jobs,” the member said.

Workers are also concerned that after they train employees, their jobs might be eliminated in a couple of years, said one hourly employee.

“They’re telling them these are long-term positions, but it sounds like everybody is worried. Is it really?” the first union member said.

The Machinists represents 384 Wichita hourly workers.

The meetings were the second round the company has held about jobs in San Antonio since the announcement.

And they come amid Air Force concerns that Boeing risks a shortage of experienced mechanics to maintain the presidential Air Force One.

Boeing is transferring maintenance on the two 747 jumbo jets used as to transport the U.S. president to the San Antonio facility.

“Boeing’s relocation effort will challenge every aspect of the program,” Air Force contracting officer Margaret Wright said in a letter to Boeing, Bloomberg reported last week. That “requires nothing less than a seamless relocation effort.”

To work on Air Force One, mechanics and other specialists must have five years of experience on Air Force One or on comparable special-mission airplanes, Wright said in the letter.

Boeing officials said this week that the company is committed to meeting all of the government’s requirements.

The Air Force has asked Boeing for information to better understand the environment in San Antonio, an Air Force spokesman said this week. It realizes that Boeing is still in the planning stages and at this time has no reason to believe Boeing won’t meet the terms and conditions of its contracts, he said.

Air Force One is scheduled to come to Wichita early next year. The first plane is scheduled to arrive in San Antonio in 2014.

Boeing’s San Antonio workforce does not have the specialized experience to work on the presidential airplanes, union leaders say.

“The experience is here; the workforce is here,” Ledbetter said. “This has been a legacy in Wichita. It’s the presidential plane. This is history.”

It’s difficult to see the work go.

“To watch this right before your eyes go away is devastating,” Ledbetter said.

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