Bombardier Workers Begin Strike at Wichita Plant

Machinists at Bombardier Aerospace's corporate jet plant in Wichita went on strike Monday after rejecting a proposed three-year contract over the weekend that union officials had recommended they approve. The strike, which began at 12:01 a.m...


Machinists at Bombardier Aerospace's corporate jet plant in Wichita went on strike Monday after rejecting a proposed three-year contract over the weekend that union officials had recommended they approve.

The strike, which began at 12:01 a.m. Monday when the previous contract expired, was endorsed by 80 percent of the voting members Saturday, said officials for union Local 639 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. They declined to release totals.

"We're surprised and disappointed, because the offer was a good one," Bombardier spokesman Leo Knaapen said after the strike vote. "We'll take the steps we have to do to make sure we continue serving our customers."

The union represents 1,100 workers at the Wichita plant, which has about 4,000 employees. Union spokesman Bob Wood said Monday there was no word on additional talks.

"We're tired of being lied to, told one thing and doing another," said Brent Harp, who has worked at Bombardier for eight years. "I wanted more. They preach world-class company, but they didn't pay us world-class."

Bombardier's final offer included a wage increase of 4 percent the first year and 3 percent in each of the final two years of the contract. It also retained the current health plan with increased premiums, contained pension increases, and retained its Christmas holiday shutdown and a pension plan for new workers.

"We are on strike for our children, Wichita and even the U.S.," said Hartney Hummer, who has been with the company 17 years. Bombardier's Learjets are manufactured in Wichita, which also serves as one of the company's aircraft service centers.

Union officials said it had been four years since the last pay raise. Three years ago, workers accepted wage freezes and other concessions because Bombardier needed to cut costs and threatened to close one or two plants.

"We gave up too much in 2003 to get the piddly amount we got today," said Greg Steadman, a functional testing electrician, before voting Saturday to go on strike - the first at the Wichita plant.

On Friday, union negotiators unanimously recommended workers approve the contract.

"We always want better, but it addressed the issues this membership told us were important to them," said Steve Rooney, president of the District 70 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

But union members did not agree, and early Monday morning dozens were standing at the plant's gates, holding signs expressing their anger at the contract offer. Workers planned to picket in four-hour shifts.

In August, Montreal-based Bombardier, the third-largest manufacturer of civil aircraft, reported its second-quarter profits fell to $58 million (euro45.7 million) from $117 million (euro92.2 million) last year on lower regional jet deliveries. Its revenues for the fiscal year ended Jan. 31, 2006 were $14.7 billion (euro11.6 billion), according to the company Web site.

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Associated Press reporter Roxana Hegeman in Wichita contributed to this report.


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