Cessna strike would have hurt economy

The Wichita area dodged a strike and the economic impact it would have had on the city when the Machinists union at Cessna Aircraft rejected a work stoppage on Saturday.

A strike would have had a ripple effect in the community, said Wichita State University professor of economics Martin Perline.

"You're talking quite a few employees with pretty good wages," he said.

The union rejected Cessna's seven-year contract but didn't have the two-thirds vote required for a strike.

Without the strike vote, members accepted the contract by default. About 2,400 hourly workers are covered by the agreement that goes into affect today.

"I'm just very relieved on behalf of the community that there isn't going to be a strike," Emprise Bank president Tom Page said. "Having one of our major, primary aircraft companies shut down (production) for any period of time would not be a good thing."

A strike would have affected area machine shops, material providers, suppliers and others who support Cessna. And it would have been felt by grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters and others.

"Oh, it affects everybody," Page said. "We don't deal with the aircraft manufacturers directly in our bank, but boy, we deal with a ton of people who deal with them. It would have affected them, and consequently, it would have affected us."

Every week of a strike would have meant $2.1 million in lost wages, Jeremy Hill, director of WSU's Center for Economic Development and Business Research, said last week. A four-week strike would have meant a 4 percent decline in retail

taxable sales, Hill said.

Over time, that loss of wages would have affected every retail establishment in Wichita, he said.

Dawson Grimsley, president of the Davis-Moore Auto Group, said Friday that he'd be relieved if there wasn't a strike.

"It would be better off for everybody," Grimsley said.

'I didn't expect a raise'

Edward Hoover, a 15-year Cessna employee, voted in favor of a strike. On Sunday, he said he was disappointed with the outcome.

"I didn't expect a raise or anything like that," Hoover said.

Hoover is concerned that the company is moving work elsewhere. The new contract guarantees only that the company will keep final assembly of current Citation products in Wichita.

He also doesn't like the changes in health insurance, which will cost considerably more for employees.

He understands, however, why members didn't go on strike.

"You've got to take what you can get right now and fight another day," Hoover said.

He won't be in that fight, however, because he'll retire by then.

"I was fighting and hoping for my grandkids and kids... that they would have a future in Wichita," Hoover said.

Gary Chaison, Clark University professor of industrial relations, called the outcome "incredibly sad."

Workers are locked into an agreement they don't like.

"They're in limbo, and they're going to be in limbo for the next seven years," Chaison said.

In better times, members wouldn't have accepted the contract, but the alternative was equally bad, Chaison said.

No one knows whether the contract would have improved with a strike, he said.

But like the Machinists at Cessna, unions in a variety of industries around the country are taking what companies are offering.

They're saying "times are bad and the best we can do is hunker," Chaison said.

Ultimately, a strike could have done more harm than good, he said.

The company could have hired replacement workers, outsourced a lot of work or accelerated the pace of work being relocated during a work stoppage.

"They could easily walk off the job and find out it could be a six-month strike, and everything could be gone," Chaison said.