Spirit AeroSystems workers face reduced hours, pay after Boeing 737 MAX grounding

Thousands of salaried Spirit AeroSystems employees — most in Wichita — are scheduled to move to a shorter work week that amounts to a 20% cut in pay to reduce costs following the Boeing 737 MAX grounding.

About 6,000 workers in Wichita and Oklahoma will go to a four-day work week while Spirit continues “to look for cost-saving opportunities and other ways to increase efficiencies across our programs,” Spirit spokesman Fred Malley said by email.

Roughly 90% of the affected employees work at the Wichita plant, Malley said.

They include all salaried employees, management and executives who work on commercial airplane programs, Spirit said. The Wichita plant employs about 12,000 people.

The cuts start June 21 and will last for 10 weeks, until Aug. 29, Malley said. They’re mandatory, according to a list of questions and answers sent to employees Friday morning.

Employees in the strategic defense program will not be affected.

Hourly employees in Wichita and Oklahoma can take a voluntary, unpaid personal day on July 5 to help with cost savings, Malley said in his email.

“Spirit leadership recognizes the hardship these actions will have on our employees and has worked to identify options that will minimize the impact to employees and their families as much as possible,” Malley’s email said. “Our employees are our greatest asset, and we appreciate their support during this period.”

The schedule changes are the latest in a series of actions taken by Spirit in the wake of the worldwide grounding in March of Boeing’s 737 MAX over safety concerns following deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Spirit makes about 70% of the 737, including the fuselage, and production of those planes made up 56% of the company’s revenue in 2018.

In April, Spirit began reducing overtime and the use of contractors and suspended hiring to backfill open positions. The company is now moving to cut all non-Spirit personnel, except about a dozen cleared to work on a defense program.

Last month Spirit let salaried employees in Wichita and Oklahoma take an unpaid personal day to extend the Memorial Day weekend, Malley said, to further help with reducing costs.

Under the new four-day work weeks, employees would choose Monday or Friday as an unpaid day off and receive pay for a 32-hour work week instead of the typical 40, according to a statement sent out Friday by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, or SPEEA. The professional aerospace labor union represents engineers, technical workers, pilots and other aerospace industry workers.

SPEEA’s contract with Spirit allows for a 32-hour work week for up to 10 weeks, its statement said.

Spirit is working with the Kansas Department of Labor to get up to $38 a week in unemployment for the workers who are going to shortened weeks, the SPEEA statement said.

Information sent by Spirit to employees Friday morning says the company doesn’t intend right now to extend the shortened work weeks beyond Aug. 29 but it isn’t certain what future impact the Max groundings might have.

Spirit told employees that it explored “many options” including the shortened work weeks and will continue to do so “as the situation evolves” with the Max planes. It answered a question about the potential for layoffs by saying that if the situation changes “employees will be informed of the impact to the workforce.”

“A reduced work week allows us to continue productivity and be able to ramp up quickly to meet future rate requirements,” the information says.

Spirit also is continuing to hire externally “at a reduced pace” so it can meet production rates in the future, it says.

Most contractors doing work similar to SPEEA-represented employees will leave before the four-day week is implemented, Spirit said.

This isn’t the first time Spirit employees have had to work a shortened week. Employees also did so during the 2008 Boeing strike and in 2012 after a tornado hit Spirit’s Wichita plant.

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