Aircraft machinists strike in Kansas

Hawker Beechcraft plane.

More than 100 striking machinists lined the streets early Monday outside the Hawker Beechcraft plant in Wichita, Kansas.

The first day of their work stoppage appeared to go smoothly in what is the first machinist strike against the company since 1984. Among the strikers was Juice Bruner, 35, a second-generation machinist who has worked at the plant for 12 years. His father worked at the plant for 42 years before retiring.

"We are tired of being second-class. They want to be a world-class company, treat us as world-class workers," he said. "We want our fair share."

A work stoppage began at 12:01am Monday when the contract covering about 4,700 hourly workers at the Wichita plant and 500 more in Salina expired. Machinists on Saturday rejected the company's proposed new contract overwhelmingly with 90 percent voting against the offer and 89 percent voting to strike.

"I've never been so proud of our union brothers and sisters," said Martin Peterson, a 44-year-old machinist who has worked at the plant for 20 years. "To finally get our contract vote right made me proud."

Peterson said his wife is working two jobs and the couple has saved money to wait out the strike. His main concern in voting against the contract was work being outsourced to Mexico, saying the company's offer did nothing to address job security. The company did not immediately return a call Monday for comment. But the company said after the strike vote Saturday that it was disappointed with the union membership's decision.

"The company's offer was the best offer made to employees in more than 20 years," Hawker Beechcraft claimed in a written statement. "The company addressed every major issue brought to the bargaining table by union leadership, as the proposed package contains increased wages, more choices in health care plans, and improved medical, dental, vision and pension benefits."

But the union said sticking points are health care, pension benefits and a salary disparity between Hawker workers and what their peers get paid at Cessna Aircraft. Workers also complained that the pay rise won't offset the rise in insurance costs.

"I thought the whole contract was disrespectful for the workers," Derrick McDonald said, a 41-year old machinist who has worked at the plant for 10 years. "This is an aircraft town. We are the lowest paid."

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Aug 5 2008 12:30


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