Spirit Aerosystems cuts work week in wake of Boeing strike

Tuesday, September 6th 2005, 7:48 pm
By: News On 6

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Spirit Aerosystems Inc. told its 8,600 employees in Kansas and Oklahoma Tuesday it was shortening their workweek by no more than two days during the machinists' strike and subsequent work stoppage at the Boeing Co.

Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers walked off the job at Boeing production plants near Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Wichita on Friday. The union represents 18,400 people at the three facilities, including 960 in Wichita where Boeing has kept its military operations.

Few watched strike developments with as much interest as Spirit Aerosystems, the company formed after its parent, Onex Corp., bought Boeing's commercial aircraft operations in Wichita as well as Tulsa and McAlester in Oklahoma.

About 8,600 people now work at Spirit's three plants, including 7,500 in Wichita.

Boeing has so far remained Spirit's sole customer, said Spirit spokesman Fred Solis, adding that the strike underscores the need for Spirit to expand its customer base.

In a letter to employees, Spirit CEO Jeff Turner said Tuesday the decision was based on several immediate priorities.

``We plan, to the best of our ability, to minimize the impact on you of necessary business actions taken to preserve cash resources, ensure the long-term health of our young company, and be ready to support Boeing's production requirements when the work stoppage is over,'' Turner wrote.

Turner told workers that none of them will be asked to shorten their workweek by more than two days. The reduced workweeks will begin as soon as possible.

Some ``critical areas'' at the plant will not be affected, the letter said. Those include programs focused on future development and those in pursuit of new business.

To minimize the personal impact, the company has continued its health and group benefits and given workers various options, depending in part on which union represents them. Employees are allowed to use their vacation balance or earned time off until it is exhausted for their two days off per week.

The effect of the Boeing machinists strike on some of the 250 small aerospace suppliers in south-central Kansas will vary, based on how much each depends on Boeing orders.

The last strike by Boeing machinists was a 69-day walkout in 1995.

Allen Oakleaf, owner and CEO of Excel Manufacturing, remembers how nervous he was then when Boeing machinists went on strike. At that time Boeing orders accounted for 70 percent to 80 percent of his business, sparking a work slowdown and work stoppage at Excel.

``It hurt us,'' he said. ``Today, we are more diversified. We are so doggone busy now, if there was an impact it would allow us to do more work for someone else.''

Excel Manufacturing, which employs 130 people in Wichita, produces structural components like ribs and fittings for Boeing's military and commercial aircraft operations.

``In our case, the impact is not as severe as some _ only because the amount of business we do with Boeing as a percentage of our business is fairly low,'' Oakleaf said.

Bill Davis, president of Vermillion Inc., sees ``no impact at all'' on his company because he supplies parts for Boeing's military programs, his largest customer, and he is continuing to ship parts daily.

``The programs we are involved in are critical programs for the government and they are continuing to work on them,'' Davis said. ``I don't think the number of people on strike is going to have an impact on Boeing's military operations, at least the programs we are working on.''

But Davis said other small aerospace suppliers who are doing work for Spirit Aerosystems are concerned.

``It could impact our city,'' Davis said.