Ex-employees' suit vs. Boeing is proceeding

A lawsuit filed by former Boeing Wichita workers and the unions that represent them is moving forward, although slowly.

The lawsuit, filed in 2005 and now in its discovery phase, seeks payment of early retirement medical and pensions included in Boeing union contracts that were in place at the time Boeing sold its Wichita commercial aircraft division in 2005. Boeing sold the division to Onex Corp., creating Spirit AeroSystems.

The benefits allowed the workers, under certain requirements, to retire at age 55 and receive pensions along with medical benefits that bridged until they were eligible for Medicare.

The suit alleges that the workers were laid off in the sale, and thus eligible for the benefit. Boeing says they were terminated and not eligible.

The suit originally was filed by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace and joined by the Machinists union.

Some requests for documents remain outstanding, according to SPEEA.

Once the discovery phase concludes, each side will file for summary judgment from the court, which can then enter judgment for one side or the other or call for a trial.

"We're disappointed that it's taken this long to get to some type of judgment on this case," said SPEEA Midwest director Bob Brewer. "We've got a lot of employees. They call weekly trying to get a status.... There's just been a delay at every turn since this thing began."

Machinists union spokesman Frank Larkin said the union thinks the contract was violated.

"We look forward to resolving it as quickly as possible," Larkin said. "Beyond that, we're not going to go into details in discussing it."

Another suit, a class-action case brought by about 800 former Boeing employees who allege that Onex and Spirit AeroSystems did not hire them because of their age, is pending.

Boeing and Spirit argued against granting class-action status and have asked the federal judge to toss out the lawsuit and rule in their favor.

In the next few months, Judge Eric Melgren is expected to rule on the evidence of the case, whether the plaintiffs can maintain class certification and whether to proceed to a jury trial, said Lawrence Williamson, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.