Opinion Columns & Blogs

Steve Rooney: Machinists union part of the solution

I was saddened to see the Labor Day holiday weekend marred by the article "Why are people against unions?" (Sept. 5 Eagle).

Good union jobs have always been the bedrock of the Wichita economy, and our city is stronger because of them. For decade after decade, union-negotiated wages in the aircraft and other industries have given us a strong tax base and strong local economy.

The article said that businesses didn't want to speak against unions for fear of losing business. Are they saying they don't like unions, but sure like the business they get from them?

The aircraft industry, in particular, is money that comes in from out of state — as few local people buy business jets or airliners. This is all new money into our economy, instead of money from people trading among themselves. Wichita is the No. 1 exporting city in the United States.

I'm sure the local restaurants, retailers and car dealers love to see those union-negotiated dollars coming into their coffers. Unionized workers usually have far more discretionary income to spend than nonunion workers.

How would local businesses feel if the industry left? How many of them will be closing their doors? How many are already feeling the pinch as many of the aircraft companies have laid off workers?

The Machinists union is part of the solution, not part of the problem. I think we've proved that recently at Spirit AeroSystems, where we negotiated a groundbreaking agreement that keeps the product lines and jobs in Wichita.

Also, good contract negotiations at Bombardier Learjet last year led to Learjet inking a deal with the state to keep the current jobs, and added jobs with the Learjet 85 production line.

As our international president, Tom Buffenbarger, said recently, we are looking for ways to work with the aircraft companies so that they have the things they need to be competitive, and to keep jobs in Wichita.

Saving these jobs would be tougher without a union to stand up for the workers. The Machinists union lobbies on Capitol Hill on their behalf, and we have been a partner with this industry to help turn around the business. Buffenbarger recently spoke at the National Business Aviation Association convention.

We've built a strong industry in Wichita, the last great American industry, where we still lead the world with high-quality products.

Sadly, because of the call of cheap labor in Mexico, and states using federal money to lure these companies from Wichita, we can't do it alone. Creating the conditions to keep the jobs in Wichita requires help from local and state officials, too.

On Labor Day weekend, instead of bashing unions and questioning their reasons for existence, we should have been celebrating their decades-long contributions to the Air Capital and the work our unions do to keep jobs in Wichita, for the future of the Air Capital of the World.