Contract negotiations between Spirit AeroSystems and its professional and technical union open next month.
It's the first full set of negotiations since Spirit was formed in 2005 after Boeing sold its Boeing Wichita commercial aircraft facilities.
The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace's negotiating teams began meeting in subcommittees with Spirit representatives this week to work on non-economic issues, the union said.
Main table negotiations begin June 20. The six-year contract expires July 11.
The union represents 2,400 technical and professional employees at Spirit.
Spirit spokesman Ken Evans said the company's priorities are to keep the company healthy and the team intact and to continue to expand its relationship with labor, including SPEEA's professional and technical unit.
Spirit said it is working with the union to operate and negotiate under a new model both parties think is fair.
"We understand we are all in this together as one team, so we are approaching each other as partners, not adversaries," Evans said. "We share the goal that what emerges needs to be a contract that is good for everyone."
Spirit wants to secure a long-term future, keep the company healthy and ensure stability and growth in Wichita, he said.
SPEEA Midwest director Bob Brewer said the union is approaching negotiations in a collaborative effort.
The union presented its proposal to the company in April as a starting point for discussion, he said.
Spirit representatives are listening and asking good questions, Brewer said.
Still, he said he knows there will be "mountains to cross" on both sides during the talks.
A survey of members showed that compensation, benefits and retirement are the union's top issues, Brewer said.
The six-year contract currently in place allowed for negotiations to reopen midway on economic issues only.
But members rejected Spirit's offer at that time. Since the contract didn't expire until this year, they did not have the right to strike, and the current contract remained in place.
Those negotiations took place as the economy was in a downturn.
Today, the company is in a better place, Brewer said.
"Things have really turned around with Spirit," Brewer said.
The company is preparing for rate hikes for work on Boeing's 737 and 777 jetliners. Spirit performs work on all Boeing airliners. Spirit also has 10 new programs in development.
"We like the positive direction everything is in," Brewer said. "It's probably a good time to sit down and have these discussions."
SPEEA's initial proposal to Spirit includes improvements in retirement, medical and pension plans, salary adjustment funds and cost-of-living protections, better notification of subcontracting and outsourcing, improvements in shift compensation, increased earned time off, improvements in job classification language and in the retention rating notification process and an extended recall period.