Machinists voting on changes to Hawker Beechcraft retirement plan

Machinists union members at Hawker Beechcraft were voting Friday morning on the company’s proposal to change their pension plan.

The proposal retains the pensions, freezes accruals beginning Dec. 31 and creates a new Retirement Income Savings Plan.

“I don’t see we have a choice,” Merle Berghoefer, an employee for 16 years, said before the vote at Hartman Arena. “It’s that or nothing.”

Berghoefer said he thinks the proposal will pass.

That’s “because of the turmoil that’s going on, the economy and the bankruptcy,” he said.

The union and Hawker Beechcraft have quietly been negotiating terms of their pensions in talks that began shortly after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 3.

The talks were limited to the pension portion of the existing contract, which expires in 2016.

If accepted, pensions will be frozen at $51 per month per year of service.

Rhonda Schultz, a 22-year employee, said she thinks members will accept the proposal.

“It’s the best offer we’re going to get,” Schultz said.

Charles Thomas, a 17-year employee, said he thinks the proposal is in employees’ best interest.

“We don’t have many options left,” Thomas said.

He said the company has their best interest at heart.

“They could have just locked the doors,” he said of the bankruptcy.

If the union ratifies the proposal, it still would require approval by the bankruptcy court.

Union officials say they think the court will give its approval.

The changes would also become part of any sales agreement in the event Hawker Beechcraft is sold, said union spokesman Frank Larkin.

The company is in exclusive negotiations with Superior Aircraft Beijing, which is exploring an acquisition of the business, except for the defense business.

The union represents about 3,000 Hawker Beechcraft employees, including 2,000 active employees and 1,000 who are on layoff, Larkin said.

Polls were to close at 11 a.m.

Check for the outcome of the vote.