Bombardier Union Workers Go On Strike

By: KAKE News/Associated Press Email
By: KAKE News/Associated Press Email

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UPDATE: Monday, October 8, 2012

Machinist union members are on strike against Bombardier Learjet. The strike comes after union members overwhelmingly rejected Bombardier’s contract offer with a 79 percent vote.

Strikers set up pickets outside the plant at Harry and Tyler Road as the contract expired at Midnight Monday.

Striking machinists tried to persuade arriving employees to turn around and go home. The early hours of a strike’s first day are often the liveliest. Car lines backed up for miles as those not covered by the contract inched their way to work.

Union members say they have the right to stop each car and explain their labor dispute with the company.

In a statement released after Saturday’s vote, Bombardier says it stands behind the offer, which 79 percent of union members rejected. Picketers say the strike is something they’re pushed into.

"We've only got a few issues that we're hung up on,” says union negotiator Ken Lewellen. “The biggest is medical benefits."

As expected, a court injunction was announced just before noon, which spelled out rules, such as how many picketers can walk the line at a time.

"We're going to have to start limiting it to six picketers here,” Lewellen says. “And we're going to have to have four over here where the plane is."

Picketing lines were then also set up as other company entrances were opened.

Bombardier’s statement also says company negotiators are ready to talk. The union says it’s also ready, but only if certain health benefits are included in the talks.

"The main sticking point is the health care and when they're ready to put the HMOs back on the table we're ready to talk,” says machinist union spokesman Bob Wood. “This is a Canadian company and we think they just don't get it."

Now we know what it will take to get negotiations resumed, and we’ll be watching for any movement on that. For now, things are becoming somewhat orderly for such a job action as this.

This is only the second time Bombardier machinists have gone on strike. 1,100 workers walked off the job in October of 2006. That strike lasted for 3 weeks.

UPDATE: Monday, October 8th, 2012

Just after midnight Monday morning, union members at Bombardier Learjet walked off the job and went on strike.

Striking machinists lined the entrance to the plant early this morning. Strikers spent time speaking with drivers trying to enter the plant.

By late morning a court injunction limited the number of machinists who could be on the picket line.

The picket line has caused a major traffic problem on Tyler Road. Police are asking drivers to avoid Tyler from Kellogg to K-42.

UPDATE: Sunday, October 6, 2012

One minute after midnight on Monday, for the second time in the plant's history, Bombardier Learjet union members will take their place on the picket line outside the gates.

"We are not fighting for today. We are fighting for our future,” union member Darryl Higgins said.

First-time striker Darryl Higgins says the decision wasn't easy but one he and his fellow union members felt they had to make.

"Scared to death - hope it won't take long. I’m out for how ever long it takes to get our fair shake,” Higgins said.

Saturday night, more than two-thirds of union members voted down Bombardier Learjet's five-year contract offer. Union spokesman Bob Wood says the main problem with the contract was a proposed increase in healthcare premiums, which would force workers to pay more out of pocket.

"They get those health care bills every month - and a lot of them if they have sick family members or kids who need a lot of care. That can bankrupt you,” Wood said.

In a statement, Bombardier Learjet said they "put forward a fair and reasonable contract" and said “the company is disappointed that the offer was rejected.”

We spoke with a company official Sunday night who tells us they do want to continue negotiations and find a way forward.

Wood says union members are also willing to return to the bargaining table as long as the company is ready to discuss health care.

"If they're ready to come to the table and fix problems with the contract we're certainly ready to talk,” Wood said.

A Bombardier Learjet spokeswoman says they have put their strike contingency plan into effect. Although she couldn't give specifics, she says its goal is to continue to provide aircraft services to its customers and keep the production line running as smoothly as possible.

UPDATE: Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bombardier Learjet union members have voted down the company's five-year contract offer. Now, with more than two-thirds of members voting to strike, the work stoppage will begin on Monday at 12:01 a.m. when the current contract expires.

"Now they have no choice but to listen to us, they may not like it, but they hear us," said Rayma Rowland who has worked for Bombardier Learjet for 24 years.

Workers say ultimately it is the proposed increase to healthcare premiums that grounded negotiations and forced this result.

"They have pulled so many things out of our pockets in the past, this is the final thing that bumped the bank this time, it's a big step," Machinists District President Frank Molina Jr. said.

Shortly after the vote Bombardier officials released the following statement:

Bombardier Learjet today announced that following an official vote on Saturday, October 6, 2012, Wichita employees belonging to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) union have rejected a proposed labour agreement and have voted in favour of a work disruption.

Bombardier Learjet put forward a fair and reasonable contract renewal offer to its unionized employees. While the company is disappointed that the offer was rejected with a vote in favour of a strike, the negotiations team is available to continue negotiations and is hopeful that the Union representing Bombardier Learjet employees will soon return to the bargaining table and, by working together, the two parties can resolve all outstanding issues.

A contingency plan at the Wichita site has been implemented and Bombardier Learjet is working towards minimizing disruption to the production line, its customers and the community.

In the meantime, workers say they're ready for the next step.

"We'll stand as long as it takes," Rowland said.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The machinists union at Bombardier Learjet is urging workers to reject a contract offer and vote to strike.

Union members will vote Saturday on a five-year contract that includes no raises in the first year and a 1 percent raise for each subsequent year. It retains pension plans, but increases health care costs.

Union spokesman Bob Wood says it dislikes the length of the contract.

Bombardier Learjet spokeswoman Peggy Gross says it is a reasonable proposal.

A simple majority is required to accept the contract, but a strike needs two-thirds approval.

If the contract is rejected, but there are not enough votes to strike, the contract is accepted by default. If a strike is authorized, it would begin at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The union represents 825 workers in Wichita.

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