October 6, 2012

Learjet 60 employees offered retraining in proposed contract

As Bombardier Learjet prepares to pause Learjet 60 production, the company and the Machinists union have forged a tentative agreement on how to reduce the impact to its hourly work force.

As Bombardier Learjet prepares to pause Learjet 60 production, the company and the Machinists union have forged a tentative agreement on how to reduce the impact to its hourly work force.

The goal is to mitigate layoffs for represented employees working on the Learjet 60 line by offering them retraining and the opportunity to transition to other open jobs.

The understanding is part of Learjet’s proposal of a new five-year contract.

However, the Machinists negotiating team recommends members reject the company’s five-year contract offer and strike, primarily because of significant increases to health care costs. For example, an employee paying $75 a pay period to insure a family would pay $161 a pay period under a point-of-service plan in the new deal. Two HMO plans would be eliminated.

According to information provided by the Machinists, brand name prescription drugs also would cost more, as would some other health care services, such as trips to the emergency room.

The offer also includes no general wage increases in the first year of the contract, with a 1 percent raise in each of the following four years.

Members of Local Lodge 639 will vote at the Cotillion Ballroom from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday. A meeting on the offer begins at 9 a.m.

The union represents about 825 hourly workers at Bombardier’s Learjet plant in west Wichita.

The proposal includes a memo of understanding regarding an early retirement incentive program, and an agreement to meet to discuss future pension benefit cost management.

If the contract is rejected, those issues could be subject to additional discussion, said Machinists spokesman Bob Wood.

A soft market for business jets and pricing pressures led the company to halt Learjet 60 production until the market returns.

No decision has been made on which tail number will be the last one off the line, Ralph Acs, head of Wichita’s Learjet plant said in a recent tour of the facility.

“It’s a bit open ended,” he said.

Under the proposal regarding the Learjet 60, workers working that line would be able to retrain for other jobs that would become available by replacing contractors working in union jobs. They would also be able to retrain for other open positions.

“The parties recognize that many of the eligible employees that may want to transition to a new classification may not possess the requisite skills to perform the essential functions of those new classifications,” the memo of understanding said. “The company has agreed with the union to offer eligible employees the option to be trained for a different job classification.”

Pausing the Learjet 60 line will be done in stages. Senior employees will be retrained within their job classifications where positions exist and won’t be eligible for the retraining, the understanding said.

The workers will be able to choose which job they may want to train for from available positions.

“If for any reason, an opening does not exist at the end of a successful training period, the employee will be laid off and have automatic recall rights to both their current job classification and to the job classification for which they trained,” the memo of understanding said.

Those who do not successfully complete the retraining will be laid off.

The memo of understanding would not apply to represented methods planners and tooling and material controller positions because they will be able to be absorbed by the Learjet 85 and other programs.

The company also plans to offer an early retirement incentive program next year. It will be available to employees 55 and older with at least 10 years of service.

They will be paid an incentive of two weeks of pay plus $25,000 in a lump sum, minus taxes and withholdings. The incentive will be limited to 150 employees but can be increased at the company’s discretion.

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