Union: Hawker may make massive cuts

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July 15--Union officials said Wednesday that Hawker Beechcraft is considering moving work out of Wichita that could shrink its hourly work force 50 to 75 percent over the next two years.

Union and company leaders met Wednesday about the future of the Wichita facility and its jobs, the union said.

"The outlook given by the company was bleak for the future," Machinists District 70 president Steve Rooney said in a letter to workers.

"The picture we are getting is of a Hawker Beechcraft Wichita that will shrink almost immediately down to 25 percent or more within two years, without a guarantee of even the last few jobs staying."

The company issued a statement in response to Rooney's letter to union members:

"Last September the company initiated a series of meetings to update the union leadership about serious challenges it faces during these unprecedented economic times," the statement said. "These conversations have included a spectrum of possibilities for the company's future footprint and the likely impact on its workforce in all its locations.

"The company values this partnership and believes that there is a great opportunity available to us to work together to influence a positive outcome."

Company officials would not comment outside the statement.

The Machinists represents about 2,400 hourly workers at Hawker Beechcraft's plant in Wichita. The company employs 7,000 people, including about 6,000 in Wichita.

The union isn't opening contract negotiations with the company at this time, Rooney said. He said it has made an extensive information request from the company to understand the situation regarding jobs at the plant.

"Until we get the information that we requested, we couldn't begin to tell you if we can come close to doing anything to save these jobs," Rooney said.

Hawker Beechcraft is seeking a long-term contract with the Machinists, but it wants one that "strips you of your union rights, without any long-term guarantees at all," the letter said.

The Machinists ratified a 10-year contract with Spirit AeroSystems last month in exchange for improvements in job security, seniority and grievance procedures.

The company committed to keeping work in Wichita for the next 10 years and continued other protections, the union said.

Hawker Beechcraft isn't seeking the same kind of agreement, the union said.

In May, company chairman and CEO Bill Boisture told analysts the company continues to seek ways to reduce costs in the downturn and is re-examining its operations and supply chain.

Eventually, Hawker Beechcraft plans to further cut its facility footprint, he said at the time.

The company recorded a net loss of $63.4 million in the first quarter of 2010.

Hawker Beechcraft cut 2,700 jobs in Wichita in 2009 and cut or issued layoff notices to 375 Wichita workers this year.

It also closed its Salina facility, with half of the work going to the company's plant in Mexico and the rest to outside suppliers and vendors. The Salina plant employed about 240 people.

The union can't save jobs alone, Rooney said. He said it's time for representatives in Kansas and Washington to step up to help keep jobs in the state.

Still, the Machinists will "leave no stone unturned in fighting for each and every job," he said in the letter to union members. "We will work hard to find any solution possible to save these jobs, but we will not be blamed or left holding the bag."

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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