The community can hope the strike by Machinists union members at Bombardier Learjet will be brief, and that the workers soon will be back to what they do so well – building aircraft and supporting not only their families but the local and state economies.
Whenever members of Wichita’s aviation workforce go on strike, as Machinists union members did for three weeks in 2006 for the first time in Learjet’s history, they set off a painful and sometimes long-lasting ripple effect throughout the community.
And Wichita’s economy doesn’t need additional uncertainty right now any more than the company and its employees and families do.
The issues in the strike are a tough reflection of the times.
The Machinists union, which represents 825 hourly workers at the plant, takes issue with the proposed contract’s elimination of two HMO plans and increases in employees’ health care costs. There is understandable dissatisfaction with the salary terms, too – no general wage increases in the first year and 1 percent raises in each of the next four years.
The union is doing what unions do, trying to get the best possible contract for its members.
It’s the strike’s context that tests pro-union solidarity in this manufacturing town, including how difficult the market continues to be for business jets and how many other local companies have frozen (or cut wages), trimmed benefits and increased employees’ health care costs over the past few years.
Bombardier Learjet and its skilled workforce are among the key reasons why Wichita remains the Air Capital of the World, and well-positioned to soar again once the recovery takes hold and aircraft orders rebound. Expectations are high for the ability of the Learjet 85 to attract new customers.
We’re confident that the parties in this strike, like those in past disputes at Wichita’s planemakers, will summon the professionalism and mutual trust and respect necessary to get to agreement swiftly. The first step toward getting back to work is getting back to the table.