Cessna union rejects contract, but won't strike

Sept. 21, 2010


Sept. 19--Machinists union members at Cessna Aircraft will head to work instead of the picket line Monday after they failed to get the votes required to strike.

Fifty-eight percent of members voted to reject Cessna's seven-year contract on Saturday, but only 49 percent voted to strike.

Without the two-thirds vote required to approve a strike, the members accepted the contract by default.

"We understand the times we're in today," said Machinists District 70 directing business representative Steve Rooney at Century II after the votes were counted. "A paycheck is a hard thing to give up."

The union's negotiating team had recommended rejection and a strike.

"We support this membership entirely," Rooney said.

Cessna chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton called the contract fair.

"We are satisfied to begin this next week with a new contract in place so we can move forward with our efforts to reshape Cessna to be more competitive in a global market and a tough economy," Pelton said in a statement.

"We presented the members a contract that was more than fair, given our business environment," Pelton said. "And while we are disappointed they rejected the offer, we appreciate the membership's willingness to continue to put the customer first, knowing that will lead to success for all."

The Machinists union represents about 2,400 hourly workers at Cessna.

The current contract expires today. A work stoppage would have begun at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The last time the Machinists struck Cessna was in 1976.

Job security and health care were two main issues with the union.

Members were unhappy the agreement didn't guarantee more work would be kept in Wichita.

The company agreed to keep only final assembly of its Citation products in Wichita for the duration of the contract. That includes installing the wings, engines, avionics and interiors and painting the airplane before delivery to a customer.

Roy Cavender, an 11-year employee, called the contract a "lose-lose situation."

"From a strike, you lose; if you don't strike, you lose," Cavender said at Century II, where members were voting. "You are between a rock and a hard place."

The issues weren't about money, said Ron Russell, a 36-year Cessna employee.

"I just wanted more job security," Russell said.

"I was ready and willing to take it on the chin for wages and stuff," Russell said. "But I'm not willing to take it in the back. ... I see all the takeaways."

Russell said he's wanted to build airplanes since he was a child. Now, he's been told his job is moving to Mexico.

Don Blecha has worked at Cessna for 35 years. His daughter and son-in-law work there as well. His wife and son have been laid off from Cessna.

Blecha said he was ready to strike because he wants more job security for future generations.

"There is virtually no job security," Blecha said. "That's the biggest thing to me."

The change in health insurance was also a big issue for Blecha.

With all the changes, "it's looking like there's not going to be another generation that will have the lifestyle that we had," Blecha said.

In the contract, health care coverage moves to consumer-based medical, dental and vision plans used by Cessna's nonrepresented workers. Union leadership figures the change raises costs by $4,000 to $5,000 a year.

"The insurance isn't any good," said Vince Chace, who's worked at Cessna 13 years.

Jenny Carpenter, a 13-year employee, said that on Monday, she and her co-workers won't know where they will be in seniority, because the contract combines job classifications.

"They messed with things they didn't need to mess with," Carpenter said.

In the end, however, workers didn't want to strike.

The contract includes:

--A ratification bonus of $2,500 paid in January and a $1,000 lump-sum payment in 2012

--No wage increases for the first four years and a 1 percent raise in each of the last three years. A clause allows negotiations to reopen to review wages annually beginning in 2014.

--Cost-of-living increases

--The potential for performance-based bonuses

--Retention and a $2 increase per month in pension plan payments, to $57 per month for each year of service

It's the second time in three months Machinists union members rejected a contract offer but didn't have the votes to strike.

In June, 57 percent of union members at Spirit AeroSystems who voted rejected the company's offer of a 10-year contract. Fifty-eight percent voted to strike, falling short of the two-thirds required for a work stoppage.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or [email protected].