Textron Aviation Machinists To Vote On 'Historic' Labor Contract

Machinists union members at Textron Aviation conduct a Solidarity Rally in Wichita to show support for union negotiations. Members vote Sept. 19 on the company’s offer. The current contract expires Sept. 20.
Credit: Molly McMillin

WICHITA–When Machinists union members at Textron Aviation cast their vote on a new labor contract Sept. 19, they will be voting on an agreement they call historic.

The current agreement expires Sept. 20.

It is the first full negotiation of a contract following Textron’s purchase of Beechcraft and its merger with Cessna Aircraft.

“We’re not Cessna anymore. We’re not Beechcraft anymore. We are Textron Aviation,” Cornell Beard, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District #70, said during a Sept. 10 union rally in downtown Wichita. 

Hundreds held signs, blew whistles and marched from Century II along the Arkansas River to the Hyatt Regency hotel where negotiations are being held. 

As a result of the purchase, the Machinists Local 773 representing Beechcraft workers merged with Local 774 at Cessna in 2014. The former Cessna labor contract, approved in 2009, was tweaked in 2014 to cover both groups of hourly workers. At that time, workers did not have an option to strike. 

“Even though they say we haven’t had a contract negotiation for six years, for us (at Cessna), it’s been like 11,” said Scott Gardner, a communications representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. “As one union, now we can negotiate and hopefully get a good agreement with Textron.” 

The current labor agreement covers 4,560 hourly workers at Textron Aviation. Negotiations began Aug. 17.

“Textron Aviation is committed to negotiating in good faith with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) and working together to find mutually beneficial ways for a sustainable future,” the company said in a statement. “Our goal is to reach the right agreement with IAMAW—one that allows us to weather these challenging times, take care of our employees, and eventually allow us to return to growing our business.”

The company has been impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In June and July, it laid off 870 Kansas employees, according to the Kansas Department of Labor’s website. 

Despite the cutbacks, union members have concerns, with health insurance costs the No. 1 issue, Beard said. It is an especially important benefit given the aging of the workforce here. 

Some union members said at the rally that without improvements, they are willing to strike. Deductibles and co-pays are high.

“People are really upset,” Beard said. 

Job security is also a concern, and there is a growing trend in the industry to outsource work. Once outsourced, about half of the work returns because of quality issues, he said. 

In the meantime, workers hope to make gains in the upcoming offer. 

“It’s the biggest contract of our careers,” Tommy Jones, an aircraft and powerplant mechanic at the Textron Aviation Wichita Service Center, said during the rally. 
 

Molly McMillin

Molly McMillin, a 25-year aviation journalist, is editor-in-chief of The Weekly of Business Aviation, a market intelligence report of the Aviation Week Intelligence Network.