Archive for Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Striking workers approve contract at Bombardier plant

October 24, 2006


— Striking workers at Bombardier Aerospace's Learjet plant in Wichita narrowly accepted a contract offer Monday, ending a 22-day work stoppage.

Fifty-six percent of the Machinists union members who voted approved the contract, said Steve Rooney, directing business representative for the union. No vote counts were released.

"The strike is over immediately," Rooney said. "Most of the people, they could go on second shift tonight, but have until next Monday to report."

Workers who let the company know they are out of town can have an additional 10 days to report, he said.

The breakthrough in the strike came Friday when a tentative agreement was reached just two days after Bombardier called in a federal mediator to help settle a dispute that led to the first strike in the plant's history.

"We are delighted our employees have accepted the settlement," Bombardier spokesman Leo Knaapen said. "We look forward to getting back to the basics of working and getting our aircraft into the hands of our customers. That is what it is all about at the end of the day."

The new contract calls for half-percent wage increase in its second and third years, a $1,500 bonus, a cap in insurance premiums, higher contributions to the pension plan and clarified language on overtime and seniority status.

The union leadership recommended that workers approve the new deal.

"The membership decides," Rooney said. "We make a recommendation, but ultimately the membership is the one that accepts or rejects."

The strike vote earlier this month by members came as a surprise to both the union leadership and the company. Union members voted by 80 percent to strike, despite their own negotiating committee's recommendation to approve the proposed contract. The strike began Oct. 2, when the last contract expired.

Knaapen said the company worked hard to minimize the impact of the strike, using nonunion workers and managers, as well as some unionized employees who crossed the picket lines.

The company was able to continue to deliver new aircraft as scheduled and keep up with work in the service center, he said.

"The impact was fairly minimal," Knaapen said. "Obviously production slowed down considerably."

While deliveries were on schedule, the company is going to have to expedite the manufacturing operation. The company will now have to assess what it will need to do, such as overtime work, to catch up, he said.

Montreal-based Bombardier Aerospace has about 4,000 workers in the United States, with 2,300 of them in Wichita. About 1,100 of the Wichita workers are represented by the striking Machinists union.

Three years ago, workers accepted wage freezes and other concessions because Bombardier needed to cut costs and had threatened to close one or two plants.

Union officials said it has been four years since workers had a raise.


prioress 11 years, 8 months ago

Good news; they need to get back to work.

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