Bombardier Learjet machinists walk out in Kansas

Workers at the jet plant reject five-year contract, striking for the second time in six years.

October 9, 2012   by The Canadian Press

WICHITA, Kan.—Machinists at the Bombardier Learjet plant are walking the picket line, but the Wichita, Kan.-based company says it will continue operations during the strike.

Traffic at the only gate open for non-striking employees was backed up for more than three miles Monday morning as picketers briefly stopped cars attempting to enter.

Bombardier Learjet received a court order Monday—essentially an agreement between the company and the union—that prohibits picketers from using or threatening force, insulting or intimidating employees or defacing property at the plant.

The permanent injunction requires vehicles approaching the entrance to stop at the picket line and gives workers the right to persuade others not to cross the picket lines—as long as they do not obstruct the entrance and let the vehicle pass. The order also regulates the number and size of picket signs.

Workers rejected a five-year contract late Saturday night and went on strike Monday—the second in six years. Both the company and the union say they are willing to negotiate, but no talks have been scheduled yet.

The rejected contract offered no raises the first year and a 1% raise for each subsequent year. It would have retained pension plans but increased the cost of health insurance premiums, which union officials said was a main sticking point. The union also felt the proposed contract was too long.

The machinists union represents about 825 workers at the company’s Wichita facility.

Workers made many concessions in 2003 and Bombardier Learjet promised it would make up for those, but that never happened, the union said. In 2006, machinists were on strike for three weeks, the first work stoppage in the Wichita plant’s history. The contract that expired Monday was approved in 2009 amid the nation’s economic downturn.

Machinists spokesman Tony Larkin, who was on the negotiating committee, pushed back on the sentiment coming from some community members who believe aircraft workers make too much money.

“It is ‘greedy aircraft workers’ here who spend money,” he retorted.

Larkin acknowledged it was difficult to vote to go on strike given the weak aircraft market.

“We do recognize things have slowed down—and we don’t want that to be lost—but again we can’t have all the burden put on workers,” Larkin said. “Other sacrifices need to be made by top people.”

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