By Bryan Corliss
June 30, 2023, © Leeham News – Machinists Union members working for Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, KS, will return to work on July 5, after ratifying a new four-year contract with the company.
Some 63% of Local 839 members voted in favor of the contract on Thursday, union officials said. Spirit’s first offer was rejected by 79% of union members voting.
“This membership vote by the majority of 63% is a move in the right direction for our local,” said Cornell Beard, the president of IAM District 70, the parent organization of Local 839. “Let’s work hard to set ourselves up for the big win in four years too.”
In a statement, Spirit leadership welcomed the yes vote, and said they would “closely coordinate” with suppliers and customers as the company restarts production.
Workers will start today preparing for the production restart after the Fourth of July holiday, the company said. The plant has been closed since June 22, the day after Local 839 members rejected the first offer.
The ratification vote means Spirit’s Wichita plant will be closed for 12 days before work resumes. Picket lines went up outside the plant on Saturday, June 24. Later that morning, the two sides starting meeting with a federal mediator. They announced on Tuesday (June 27) that they had reached the new tentative agreement.
During that time, worked stopped on production of key Boeing aerostructures. Spirit’s Wichita plant produces 70% of the 737 airframe, along with the nose sections of all other aircraft.
A longer strike would have seriously jeopardized Boeing plans to increase deliveries of 737s and 787s this year.
Spirit also produces parts for Airbus A220s in Wichita, which also was affected by the strike.
“We listened closely to our employees and brought forward a fair and competitive offer,” Spirit CEO Tom Gentile said. “We look forward to getting back to the important work of delivering quality products to our customers.”
The ratification vote guarantees workers 9.5% pay increases this year (along with 2% guaranteed bonuses).
Over four years, union-represented workers will see guaranteed 23.5% wage increases, along with cost-of-living adjustments (capped at 3.5%) and the 2% annual bonuses.
Also, the contract does away with mandatory weekend overtime. Previously, Spirit was able to force mechanics to come in to work both Saturdays and Sundays on two out of every three weekends.
The contract also preserved the company’s existing health insurance plan for workers. Spirit’s initial contract offer doubled copays for health care visits, and dropped coverage on a wide range of common brand-name drugs.
Prior to the vote, the mood of the union’s members was mixed. Comments posted on the Local 839 Facebook page showed most union members — but certainly not all — thinking that they had come out ahead with their one-week work stoppage.
“This second offer is what we worked for,” one advocate wrote. “Yeah, the numbers may not be as high as some of us wanted, but it touched everything we asked for.”
But others weren’t impressed.
“The supposed gains in Offer 2 were almost all just removal of the obviously bad things in No. 1, (with) others rearranged,” another worker replied. “Continued medication coverage? Not having to come in on a weekend? Is this the 1920s?”
The improved pay raises “still don’t match inflation or stagnation of the past decades, and the supposed increase in cost-of-living from Offer 2 is basically covered by the lowered (ratification) bonus,” he continued.
But overall, positive comments outnumbered negative ones at a roughly 60/40 margin.
“I think we gained a lot by walking,” one Machinist wrote. “I, for one, am willing to take this contract on the benefits we gained, and to come back to the table in four years.”