Bombardier workers reject contract, vote to strike

WICHITA, Kan. -- Bombardier Learjet workers rejected a contract offer and voted to strike Saturday, moves that will have them walking the picket line starting early Monday, a machinists union spokesman said.

Bob Wood told The Associated Press that union members voted 79 percent in favor of rejecting the proposed five-year contract and also 79 percent in favor of a strike. He said the Wichita workers will start walking the picket line just after midnight Monday.

"Nearly 80 percent is a very strong rejection," Wood said. "That certainly sends a message to the company. This is a healthy company and there's no reason for them to try to increase profit by taking it out of the members' pockets."

Bombardier Business Aircraft spokeswoman Danielle Boudreau said the company believed the offer was "fair and reasonable" and is disappointed workers didn't accept it and voted to strike.

"We believe that our proposal for employees ensured the long-term success and potential of Learjet" while also taking care of workers, she said.

The proposed contract offered no raises the first year and a 1 percent raise for each subsequent year. It would have retained pension plans but increased the cost of health care.

Wood has said health insurance is a main sticking point and that the union believes the proposed contract was too long. He said workers would benefit instead from a three-year agreement, because they can reassess market conditions then.

Company negotiators have noted the business jet market continues to weaken.

The machinists union represents 825 hourly workers in Wichita. Wood said 95 percent of the membership turned out for Saturday's vote.

"We certainly don't believe that a contract from a very profitable company that's full of take-aways and insurance that's insulting to the workers is a fair and equitable contract," Wood said. "They can say that all they want, but obviously the people who work for them felt differently."

Boudreau said, "Bombardier Learjet is willing to continue negotiations with the expectation that we will be able to reach a resolution on our outstanding issues."

The union went on strike for three weeks in 2006, the first in the Wichita plant's history. The current expiring contract was approved in 2009 amid the nation's economic downturn.