By Bryan Corliss
Oct. 2, 2023, © Leeham News – Tom Gentile is out as CEO of Spirit AeroSystems, the victim of a number of serious production missteps and a failure to lead the Tier 1 supplier into a stronger position following the Covid-19 pandemic and the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX.
The new interim CEO is Pat Shanahan, a long-time Boeing and Pentagon executive who has been serving on Spirit’s board since 2021.
Spirit said its board is conducting a search for a new chief executive.
Sept. 19, 2023, © Leeham News: It’s September 2023, one year ahead of the expirations of the current labor contracts between Boeing and its touch labor union, IAM 751. (The contract with the engineers union, SPEEA, expires in 2026.)
The IAM district, whose members assemble all Boeing airplanes in Washington State, fired a warning shot across Boeing’s bow last week. It wasn’t the first.
751 urged its members to begin saving money in anticipation of a strike in September 2024. That was three years ago.
The strike fund information appeared in the 751’s March 2020 newsletter, Aero Mechanic. The same issue had commentary about the new pandemic. At that point, nobody thought the pandemic would last two years.
Boeing was already in trouble then. The 737 MAX had been grounded since March 2019. There was no end in sight when the grounding would end. Suspension of the 787 deliveries, for what became 20 months, was still another half-year away.
By Bryan Corliss
Sept. 18, 2023, © Leeham News – One of the continuing themes we’re hearing – at investor presentations and on quarterly earnings calls – is the shortage of skilled labor, which is disrupting deliveries up and down the aerospace industry supply chain.
The inability of suppliers to deliver parts on time – or to deliver correctly assembled parts – is hampering the OEMs as they attempt to ramp up production to meet high demand from airlines.
This is not just an issue affecting aerospace. There’s a general shortage of medium- and high-skill workers in the Western world right now, with shortages of every kind of worker from line cooks to truck drivers. Shortages existed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and there’s still strong demand, even with economies slowing as central banks move to tamp down inflation.
The issue is more pronounced in industries that rely on high-skill workers – like aerospace.
One outcome of this worker shortage is a rise in union activism. In aerospace, we’ve seen the strike by the International Association of Machinists against Spirit AeroSystems this summer, and the near strike by members of the same union against Boeing’s defense business in and around St. Louis last year.
Next year, both Spirit and Boeing will be back at the bargaining table; Spirit to negotiate with members of SPEEA, the union for aerospace engineers, while Boeing holds talks with IAM District 751, which represents hourly workers at the company’s plants in Puget Sound and Oregon.
IAM 751, in fact, is urging members to prepare for what it’s describing as a September 2024 contract vote that will “forever change the aerospace industry.”
The environment seems to be favorable to the unions, for reasons we’ve discussed before. However, with the OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers heavily in debt (and currently bleeding red ink), there’s going to be a limit to what the companies will be willing to offer in a bid to satisfy their labor forces.
By Bryan Corliss
Sept. 11, 2023, © Leeham News: Negative cash flow in the quarters ahead. Ongoing issues with the supply chain. OEMs struggling to meet high airline demand as Tier 1s wrestle with quality issues. New technology wearing out faster than the old systems it replaced.
The No. 1 takeaway from last week’s Jefferies Financial Group Industrials Conference presentations is that the aerospace industry is still a few years away from being in a stable state capable of meeting the demands of customers and shareholders alike.
“We know our customers really do want to make more,” said Howmet CEO John Plant, whose company casts fasteners and engine components for Tier 1s and OEMs. “The question becomes when can we achieve these improved rates?”
Plant went on to say that he believes both Airbus and Boeing will hit their goals for increased widebody production; Airbus at 9/mo on the A350, Boeing at 10/mo for the 787.
The question, he said, is whether the OEMs will hit those rates in 2025 or 2026.
Executives from Boeing, Spirit AeroSystems and Howmet all presented at the conference, and all agreed that there’s reason to be optimistic, given the strong demand from airlines for more planes.
The issue, as Plant put it, is the industry’s ability to meet that demand. “We haven’t seen the real benefits of increased aerospace production.”
By Bryan Corliss
July 10, 2023, © Leeham News – In case anyone had slept through all the earlier alarms going off, the whistles and airhorns that sounded during the mercifully short-lived Machinists Union strike at Spirit AeroSystems should have been a wake-up call:
This ain’t the 2010s aerospace labor market anymore.
In the labor market of 2023, hourly workers don’t want to come in on weekends. They want raises, and they’re not interested in getting paid in stock. And don’t you dare think of cutting off payments for the prescription drugs their kids need to take to stay healthy.
All this is going to create a challenge for the aerospace industry. For the past two decades, executives have focused on growing profit margins by holding down marginal costs – especially labor costs.
A decade ago, aerospace companies were able to win labor concessions by threatening to take work away.
Today, it’s the workers who seem to have leverage, and OEMs are going to have to figure out how to keep them happy and productive, or explain to the Kirbys, O’Learys and Al-Baker’s of the airline industry why their planes aren’t getting out of the factories on time.
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.
By Bryan Corliss
June 27, 2023, © Leeham News – Striking Machinists Union members at Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita will vote Thursday on a new contract offer from the company.
“The parties have reached a tentative agreement with the unanimous support of the entire Local 839 bargaining committee,” the union said Tuesday.
The tentative deal, which comes after three days of meetings between Spirit and union negotiators with a federal mediator, replaces the original offer rejected on June 21. Spirit shut down production at the Wichita plant the next day, and the union began picketing outside the factory on Saturday.
Spirit CEO Tom Gentile said his team “listened closely and worked hard in our talks over the last several days to further understand and address the priorities of our IAM-represented employees.”
Senior regional leaders of the International Association of Machinists are strongly recommending the deal.
“The contract is an industry-leading agreement that should make our members extremely proud,” IAM Southern Territory General Vice President Rickey Wallace and his chief of staff, Craig Martin, said in a statement released by the union.
A quick resolution to the walk-out would benefit Boeing. The Spirit plant in Wichita provides 70% of Boeing 737 aerostructures, along with nose sections for all other Boeing aircraft. It also provides components for the Airbus A220.
Thursday’s vote would require a simple majority for ratification. If it fails to get majority support, the strike would continue.
By Bryan Corliss
June 21, 2023, © Leeham News – Spirit AeroSystems has presented a revised contract offer to striking members of the International Association of Machinists.
“We have delivered a revised offer to the IAM following days of positive discussions with IAM representatives, along with the assistance of the federal mediator,” the company confirmed to LNA. “We remain committed to reaching a timely and fair resolution.”
IAM District Lodge 70 in Wichita, which is the parent organization for striking members of Local 839, announced Monday night that it would hold a mandatory meeting for union stewards today to discuss a contract offer. However, from the statement, it wasn’t clear whether the meeting would be to cover a new offer, or review the one that workers rejected with a 79% no vote June 21.
This morning, however, Spirit confirmed to Wichita station KSN-TV, as well as the Wichita Business Journal, that it had presented a revised offer to the IAM. Any details would be released later in coordination with the union, Spirit said.
Spirit and IAM negotiators have been meeting with a federal mediator since Saturday.
If Spirit has presented a revised offer, it would not be surprising that the union’s negotiating team would want to review it with union stewards before deciding whether to take it to the entire membership for a vote. The union stewards are full-time employees of Spirit who volunteer as union representatives to assist their coworkers in resolving questions surrounding pay, benefits and other contract questions. As such, they will have the best sense of how their coworkers would respond to the new offer.
Picket lines went up around the factory just after midnight Saturday morning. Today, with thunderstorms in the forecast, Spirit invited strikers to take cover in the shacks manned by security guards at the factory’s various gates. “Our primary concern is for their safety,” the company said.
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.
By Bryan Corliss
June 23, 2023, © Leeham News — Negotiators for Spirit AerosSystems and International Association of Machinists Local Lodge 839 will resume negotiations Saturday, in hopes of reaching an agreement that would resolve a strike set to begin just after midnight tonight.
The meetings, which will include a federal mediator, will start about 10 hours after the walkout begins.
The strike, involving some 6,000 union-represented hourly workers at Spirit’s Wichita plant, threatens significant disruption to the wider aerospace industry — particularly at Boeing. The Wichita plant produces 70% of 737 aerostructures, along with the forward sections of all Boeing commercial jets.
It comes after workers rejected a proposed four-year deal on Wednesday, with 79% voting no and 85% voting to strike.