SPEEA is claiming discrimination against Spirit Aerosystems, alleging they laid off employees for being older or ill last year.
Wednesday morning, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) held a news conference announcing its allegations against the company. They say Spirit laid off hundreds of older employees in 2013, including many near retirement, with serious medical conditions or who had family members with medical problems who were covered by the company's insurance plan.
"It is absolutely shocking what this company did to these workers and to the Wichita community," said Bob Brewer, SPEEA Midwest Director.
SPEEA says that in July last year, the company changed its medical coverage to a self-funded insurance program, and that the result was that every dollar not paid out in medical claims would remain in the company's corporate bank account.
Layoffs began in late July and August, followed by a job fair in September and SPEEA said none of the previous employees were asked to return.
As a result, Brewer said 10 former employees have filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office for Civil Rights claiming the company disclosed confidential medical records. He went on to say that employees' performance scores were falsified so they could be laid off.
One of those workers is Gail Haug, who worked 40 years for Boeing and then Spirit. Haug says he had great performance reviews right up until just before he was laid off. "I am 61 years old and my wife has some medical issues", said Haug. "It was hard to accept that Spirit would do this to our medical just when we need it most." Haug added, "When you factor in that Spirit became self insured this last year, it became evident what was going on. In order to save money, Spirit was willing to sacrifice its long term employees."
Spirit responded following the news conference, saying the new allegations from SPEEA are filled with distortions and misstatements. The company said personal health information is not used to make layoff decisions.
The company says SPEEA has demonstrated a habit of making accusations and legal claims that have been found later to have no merit.
Ken Evans, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications and Creative Services at Spirit released the following statement:
"While terminations are always difficult, all such decisions are based on job-related, non-discriminatory criteria, and Spirit has made every effort to carry them out with respect for our employees. Last year, Spirit made workforce reductions in salaried and management populations. The vast majority of affected employees accepted the company’s severance package and had the opportunity for career transition services. These actions were required to balance the workforce, reduce overhead costs, and hire hourly workers for the factory. This was done to become more competitive in a cost-sensitive environment."
KAKE's Mike Iuen is tracking the story and will have more on later KAKE newscasts.