The workers who voted down Hawker Beechcraft’s proposed seven-year contract Saturday gambled that rejection wouldn’t mean the loss of their jobs and the end of the planemaker’s time in Wichita.
As employees represented by the Machinists union, they had the right to vote according to their judgment and self-interests. The offer called for a 10 percent cut in base pay and higher health insurance costs, and the 2,600 union members at Hawker resented being put in a make-or-break situation with regard to the company’s future in Wichita.
Maybe the “no” vote will lead to another contract with more favorable terms and still allow the state’s incentives deal to proceed. Certainly that’s what Mayor Carl Brewer and Gov. Mark Parkinson are hoping.
Maybe the reports of a $400 million offer to move to Louisiana were exaggerated, or other arguments will persuade the company’s owners to stay put. Surely the size and skill of Wichita’s work force, the cost of investing in new facilities elsewhere, and the local heritage built into the Beechcraft name should weigh heavily into the decision making.
Still, the vote was a disappointment for the community at large, which was counting on the contract’s acceptance to ensure that Parkinson’s deal would go forward and most of Hawker’s Wichita jobs and operations would be saved.
Now, the future is murky not only for the union workers but for all of Hawker’s local work force of 6,000 and the community as a whole. Even if the threat isn’t as serious as it’s been made out to be, the response needed to be serious.
Various experts have estimated that if Hawker Beechcraft left town, it a 2 to 6 percent loss of the local labor market, including $286 million in directly lost payroll. That’s not fatal to the Wichita economy, but the impact would be vast and lasting.
With the majority of workers represented by the Machinists union at three of Wichita’s aircraft manufacturers recently having voted against contracts — Spirit AeroSystems in June, Cessna Aircraft in September and Hawker Beechcraft in October, the first two being ratified by default because they fell short of the votes to strike — onlookers have to wonder if there is a disconnect between union leaders and the rankand-file membership. Are the leaders not representing the membership, or does the membership have unrealistic expectations? At the very least, communication seems to be lacking.
“Whatever happens, happens,” one of the Hawker “no” voters told The Eagle Saturday.
Regrettably, whatever happens won’t just happen to individuals represented by the union but to the whole community and region.
The situation may look grim. But the mayor, governor and other leaders in the community must not rest until they’ve done everything possible to avert a Hawker Beechcraft move.