Unions Talk About Saving Jobs, Companies Talk Survival

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Friday, August 20, 2010

For the second consecutive day, a Wichita plane maker begins contract talks with leaders from the International Association of Machinists membership.

Aircraft companies today speak of survival, and unions talk about preserving jobs as they look for promises from companies that jobs will remain in Wichita.

The economic conditions Cessna and the Machinists union begin contract talks in Friday, are as different as night and day compared to three years ago.

Jack J. Pelton, Cessna Aircraft Company chairman, president and chief executive officer says, "We're not sure we've seen the bottom. We're still seeing a very tough economic condition."

Cessna had record order backlogs during the 2007 negotiations. Production rates and hiring were ramping up. Labor was in a strong position, and the company did not want to risk a plant shutdown due to a strike.

"And how do we protect the members of the IAM who are employees of Cessna and secure their future, secure their jobs and secure the community of Wichita, Kansas," Tom Buffenbarger, Machinists Union International President asks.

"This is all about jobs. It's about saving and preserving our industry, the jobs, the work force that we have, the members we have. And you let the rest sort itself out," he adds.

With negotiations at Hawker Beechcraft, the concern is Wichita losing almost everything but final assembly and maybe even that in the coming months. With Cessna, workers are also concerned about work leaving the Air Capital.

Those threats are real with foreign countries like Mexico, offering cut rate wages to lure work there. And then there's the competition here in the United States. "Right now we're fighting a big battle of states raiding each other for these jobs."

What's particularly baffling about that, he says, is there are states using federal stimulus dollars to lure American companies to move from one state to another. That's not creating new jobs, it's only moving them.

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