Analysis: What went wrong in Wichita for Spirit and IAM

Striking members of Machinists Union Local Lodge 839 outside the Spirit AeroSystems plant in Wichita, Kans./Photo by The Wichita Eagle

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By Bryan Corliss

UPDATE: The two sides will continue talks with a federal mediator on Monday. In a statement, Spirit AeroSystems CEO Tom Gentile said the negotiating teams "have been working hard and making good progress."

"We will continue discussions this week and remain committed to a timely resolution on a fair and competitive contract that addresses the priorities of our employees and other stakeholders," he said.

Local 839 negotiators told their members that "with the mediator's help, we are progressing toward getting another offer to the membership for consideration."

June 26, 2023, © Leeham News –
Strikers in Wichita broiled under a hot summer sun this weekend, as the International Association of Machinists' strike against Spirit AeroSystems got under way.

The good news, for everyone who's watching in the North American aerospace industry, is that the two sides resumed talks Saturday, with the help of a U.S. federal mediator.

This walk-out caught a lot of us by surprise. Insiders I talked with before the vote didn't expect a strike. Equity analysts confidently projected the risk of strike as "very low." Spirit itself must have been confident, because it sent much of its senior leadership team to Paris for the air show.

So what went wrong? Clearly both Spirit management and the union's negotiating team misread the mood, and badly.

We took a deep dive into what workers are saying on social media about the contract. As we've noted in the past, social media posts aren't the same as scientific surveys, but they do give some insight into the mood in Wichita.

And what they reveal is that there was a lot of frustration around some specific issues, which was exacerbated by the fact that IAM Local Lodge 839 had been locked into its recently expired contract for 13 years, during which pay and benefits stayed the same inside the factory, while literally the whole world changed outside it.

  • Workers didn't like many contract specifics
  • No way to predict how long strike will last

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