Spirit, SPEEA to return to bargaining table

Spirit AeroSystems and its technical and professional union will return to the negotiating table Nov. 15 after a two-month hiatus, the union told employees.

In July, members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace rejected Spirit's 9 1/2-year contract offer by 96.5 percent. Talks resumed in late August but broke off in September.

Represented employees have been working without a contract since its expiration in July. The union represents 2,300 Spirit employees in Wichita.

Union officials say union membership has grown from about 30 percent of the represented workers at the time of the vote to more than 50 percent. That's the highest percentage since the technical and professional unit formed in 2000, said SPEEA spokesman Bill Dugovich.

Union representatives have been holding lunchtime meetings at the plant and talking with employees, SPEEA Midwest director Bob Brewer said.

Spirit officials had used the lower membership numbers to say that the contract vote represented only a disgruntled minority, he said.

"The employees are banding together and letting the company know that they're very concerned about their future and careers at Spirit," Brewer said.

SPEEA members also have taken part in an informal work-to-rule campaign, which has slowed critical production areas, SPEEA executive director Ray Goforth said in a memo to suppliers and customers Wednesday.

Work-to-rule is an action in which employees do no more than the minimum required by their labor contracts.

Spirit spokesman Ken Evans said the company has seen no evidence of "work-to-rule."

"We find baffling this and other such mischaracterizations," Evans said in an e-mail. "And we find it especially difficult to understand why SPEEA would try to impact company health."

Evans said that the company's bargaining objective has been consistent with all its unions — to keep Spirit healthy and the future team intact.

"We are very pleased to hear that SPEEA has agreed to head back to the table to negotiate a fair and competitive contract," Evans said.

The company has negotiated long-term contracts with the Machinists union, United Aerospace Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, he said.

Members say they rejected Spirit's offer because of its long duration and because it shifted health care costs to employees, did not guarantee market wages, granted special protections to contract workers during downturns, and paid a bonus lower than other salaried employees.

SPEEA is seeking a three-year contract that shifts some costs to workers, pegs pay at market rates, protects employees over contractors and pays a bonus equal to the engineers, the union said.

"We still have to find a path to a successful conclusion," Brewer said.