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Workers at Spirit AeroSystems begin strike as contract talks resume

Workers encourage passing drivers to honk their horns. They picketed across Spirit AeroSystems' campus in Wichita on Saturday.
Daniel Caudill
/
KMUW
Workers encourage passing drivers to honk their horns. They picketed across Spirit AeroSystems' campus in Wichita on Saturday.

A federal mediator has stepped in to oversee the resumed contract negotiations.

Around 6,000 workers at Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita went on strike Saturday after rejecting a contract offer from the company. It’s the first time workers at the facility have gone on strike in nearly three decades.

Striking workers stood in picket lines across Spirit's massive Wichita campus. Holding signs and blowing whistles, they encouraged drivers to honk their horns as they passed.

Under Spirit's contract offer, workers would have seen an average wage increase of 4% per year over four years, as well as cost-of-living adjustments and bonuses. They would have also seen increased healthcare costs, including co-pays.

Charles is one of the workers who was on the picket line Saturday. He provided only his first name.

He said his biggest problems with Spirit’s contract proposal are increases to insurance costs and reduced coverage for some medications, such as the Metformin he takes as a diabetic.

“You can’t take medicine away [from coverage] ‘cause some of that medicine, you can’t afford. We can’t afford it just out of our pocket,” he said.

“You gotta choose either food on the table or the medicine to survive and live. What do you do?”

Charles, who only provided his first name, was one of the workers picketing on Saturday. He says rising insurance costs and reduced coverage for certain medications are his biggest problems with Spirit's contract offer.
Daniel Caudill
/
KMUW
Charles, who only provided his first name, was one of the workers picketing on Saturday. He says rising insurance costs and reduced coverage for certain medications are his biggest problems with Spirit's contract offer.

Ben Plotkin has been an apprentice at Spirit for 18 months. He was also picketing on Saturday.

“I feel great. I feel like we have a lot of energy. People are motivated, and they’re out to get what’s fair,” he said.

Plotkin said some co-pays would double or triple under Spirit’s previous contract offer. He said the employee-paid share of his healthcare premium would go from 5 percent to 22 percent.

“The increase in cost of, like, $300 a month is enough to completely eclipse all of the wage gains that are in the contract,” he said. “If I take that contract, I’m going to lose money.”

Workers at Spirit have not had a new contract since 2010. Their current contract expired in 2020 but was extended for three years after production temporarily stopped on the 737 MAX.

Spirit, the city’s largest employer, began negotiating a new contract for about 7,800 workers with a local chapter of the Machinists Union in May.

The local union’s contract negotiating committee endorsed the company's final contract offer, but said the decision was ultimately up to the workers.

Workers on the picket line grab snacks and drinks from the back of a truck. Vehicles drove around Spirit's campus dropping off supplies throughout the day.
Daniel Caudill
/
KMUW
Workers on the picket line grab snacks and drinks from the back of a truck. Vehicles drove around Spirit's campus dropping off supplies throughout the day.

Both Spirit and the union have expressed a desire to reach a new contract, after workers voted overwhelmingly to reject the company’s final offer and go on strike.

In a statement on Wednesday, Spirit said it’s disappointed that workers rejected the contract and voted to strike.

“We believe that our fair and competitive offer recognizes the contributions of our employees and ensures we can successfully meet increasing demand for aircraft from our customers,” the statement reads.

Both parties requested a federal mediator step in to oversee the contract negotiations, which resumed on Saturday.

The union is also polling its members to find out which parts of the contract they want to see improved.

Spirit placed temporary fencing around much of the facility ahead of the strike, and the Machinists set up a nearby strike headquarters.

It’s the first time workers at the facility have gone on strike since 1995, when it was still owned by Boeing.

Daniel Caudill reports on Kansas state government for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service.
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