Cessna Workers, Union React To Layoffs

By: Cayle Thompson Email
By: Cayle Thompson Email

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

It's a somber day for 4,000 Cessna workers in Wichita. Thursday's news that expected layoffs would double original estimates took some by surprise.

"It's huge," said Machinist district president Steve Rooney.

A 35-year veteran of the business, Rooney says the aerospace industry is cyclical. But he says this is the worst "cycle" he's seen in decades.

"I don't think I can recall anything like this, this quick, and in these numbers since the early 80s," Rooney said.

Cessna workers laid off in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks were stretched out over a year and a half. Rooney says Thursday's layoffs will take effect in just 60 days.

Steven Wagner says his mother and sister were both given WARN notices Thursday morning.

"My mom has 14 years with them," Wagner said. "My sister has been here four years."

With Wichita's other plane builders also struggling, many could be facing a complete change in career.

"I asked my mom if she planned to move to another state or go to work with another [aircraft] company," Wagner said. "She said absolutely not. All the others, like Boeing, are also laying off."

"This just came extremely quick," Rooney said of Thursday's announcement.

Rooney said he met with Cessna officials Thursday morning. At that time, he says he learned the company may also offer furloughs to some employees.

Unlike being laid off, a furlough allows an employee to return to work at a certain date. During a furlough, employees can continue to receive benefits, but will not receive a paycheck.

Rooney said it's unclear how many employees would be given a furlough, or how long the furloughs would last, if they are needed at all.

And while he says he's always seen a light at the end of the tunnel, Rooney says this particular tunnel may be very, very long.

"This industry has always been a huge part of Wichita," Rooney said. "I believe it will survive and come back. The question is: when that will happen?"

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