Spirit Engineers Reject Contract, Authorize Strike

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Engineers at Spirit AeroSystems overwhelmingly rejected on Thursday the company's latest contract offer, authorizing a strike in a move to bring a federal negotiator into the stalled talks.

Ninety-three percent of those casting ballots, on a 309-22 vote, turned down for the second time the company's proposed contract; 92 percent voted to authorize a strike if necessary. The strike vote was 304-24 with three abstentions.

The results do not mean the engineers will go out on strike. Union leaders for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace had sought the strike authorization to send the company back to the table with a mediator.

Another strike authorization vote would be needed if those talks fail before workers actually walked off the job, said the union's Midwest director, Bob Brewer.

But Brewer said the vote results send "a very strong message" to the company, especially on the heels of last month's rejection of Spirit's first offer.

"We told them the engineers were very unhappy with the offer that they had in hand," Brewer said. "We went back to the table; they ignored that message from the engineers. (The engineers) sent twice the message today."

Spirit did not immediately return messages left for comment.

The union represents about 775 engineers at the Wichita plant.

Union negotiators had recommended members reject the offer, which they said doubles medical insurance premiums, eliminates minimum wage increases, takes away overtime pay for the first four hours and shields temporary workers during layoffs.

"This whole thing is not about the engineers asking for more," Brewer said. "This whole setup is about the company asking for more savings and higher profits, and they want to do it on the employees' backs."

A cheer went up at the union's headquarters when the results were announced.

Shane Michael, a test engineer at Spirit, voted to reject the contract and authorize a strike. He said he was disappointed with the overtime provisions and the greater job protections for contract workers.

"I want this company to have a bright future -- that is only if we have productive workers that share in the success," he said.

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