Wichita The cost of health care should be dealt with by federal lawmakers and not in labor contracts, said the president of a union representing 4,300 workers at Cessna Aircraft Co.
"The government is going to have to ... say we have a national problem and we have to fix it," said Tom Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Buffenbarger spoke during a break in talks between Local 774 of the union and the Wichita-based aircraft manufacturer on Monday, when the two sides opened negotiations on a contract to replace the one that expires Sept. 12.
A vote is scheduled for Sept. 11, and union members already have voted to allow leaders to authorize a strike.
Buffenbarger said that along with rising health care costs, the union's main concerns were job security, wages, pensions and outsourcing.
He said the union wanted to negotiate a strong, industry-leading contract.
Jack Pelton, Cessna's president and chief executive officer, said the company shared workers' concerns about the cost of health care.
"We don't see the world differently," Pelton said.
Cessna also wants to work with the union to improve productivity and efficiency, Pelton said.
The negotiations come as the small aircraft market continues its recovery from the 9-11 attacks.
The machinists' union is glad to see the stronger market, Buffenbarger said, but "one more stupid act" could undo the gains of the past several years.
Jim Walters, Cessna's senior vice president of human resources, said the company was looking forward to the negotiations. He said Cessna believed it could reach an agreement with the union that would both be fair to employees and allow the company to be competitive.