Union urges Bombardier Learjet workers to strike

WICHITA, Kan. -- The machinists union at Bombardier Learjet is recommending workers to reject a contract offer Saturday and vote to strike.

Union members will decide whether to accept a five-year contract that includes no raises the first year and a 1 percent raise for each subsequent year. The contract retains pension plans, but increases the cost of health care.

Machinists union spokesman Bob Wood told The Wichita Eagle that a main sticking point is health insurance. The union also believes the contract is too long and that 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, but Wood says that will turn around eventually.

"They are trying to lock us in," he said. The machinists union represents 825 hourly workers in Wichita.

Bombardier Learjet spokeswoman Peggy Gross said the company was disappointed with the union's recommendation.

"The company put forward what we thought was a fair and reasonable proposal for employees trying to ensure the long-term potential and success of Learjet as well as taking care of our employees," she said.

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.

A simple majority is required to accept the contract, but a strike needs two-thirds approval. If the contract is rejected, but not enough people vote to strike, the contract is accepted by default.

If the contract is rejected and a strike is authorized, it would begin at 12:01 a.m. Monday.