Aviation workers rally to protest outsourcing

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Jun. 17--Wichita aviation jobs are under attack more than ever, a top Machinists leader told workers attending a union rally Wednesday afternoon.

Bombardier, Cessna Aircraft and Hawker Beechcraft all are outsourcing work to Mexico and elsewhere.

"This is the birthplace of general aviation," Machinists aerospace coordinator Ron Eldridge told those gathered in the hot sun for a rally at the Holiday Inn Select hotel near Kellogg and Rock Road.

Union members from across Wichita -- many of them carrying signs reading "Jobs Worth Fighting For" -- attended the rally to protest the practice of outsourcing and to get an update on negotiations between the Machinists and Spirit AeroSystems.

Members vote June 25 at Century II on whether to accept the company's offer. Polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.

The current contract expires that day. Machinists represent about 6,000 Spirit hourly workers.

Talk at the rally first concerned Mexico.

In Wichita, Bombardier is outsourcing its Learjet 85 to Mexico, Cessna is sending work from its Prospect plant to Mexico, and Hawker Beechcraft has closed its Salina plant and notified the union it is stepping up efforts to outsource more work, said Machinists District 70 president Steve Rooney.

"Where's our mayor? Where's our governor?" Rooney shouted from the podium. "They've got to step up and recognize this is a serious issue."

Rooney urged workers to contact their congressional delegation.

"We have to wake up America," he said. "We have lost far too many jobs."

He also urged them to refuse when they're asked by their bosses to go to Mexico to train workers there.

Rooney praised Spirit AeroSystems, calling it the only company that has not laid off workers because of outsourcing. Job security is the company and the union's No. 1 issue, he said.

Rooney said after the rally that negotiations have gone better so far than any other negotiations he's been a part of.

The two sides have been discussing noneconomic issues. Talks will turn to economic ones by the weekend.

The company plans to present the union with its contract proposal Monday so members will have a few days to read it before they vote.

Without giving much detail, union officials said there have been improvements in issues surrounding layoffs and recalls, the election process, qualifications and seniority of team leaders, shortened work weeks, probationary periods, health and safety joint programs, investigation procedures, and development meetings.

Talks continue concerning retention issues and overtime scheduling, Rooney said.

Kerry Knetzer, who works in quality control at Spirit, said he was at the rally because he's interested in news of the negotiations.

"It's tense," Knetzer said of the mood inside the plant.

Shelly Smith, a process planner at Hawker Beechcraft, attended the rally to protest outsourcing.

"I don't know how they're going to help the economy by sending everything out of the country," Smith said. "It's like you have to go to Mexico to get a job."

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

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