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Hawker Beechcraft Machinists Vote Against Contract

Machinists voted against a new seven-year contract that would have included a 10 percent pay cut and other concessions aimed at keeping the company from moving its operations.

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Machinists at Hawker Beechcraft voted Saturday against a new seven-year contract that would have included a 10 percent pay cut and other concessions aimed at keeping the company from moving all its operations out of Kansas.

Bob Wood, spokesman for the airplane maker's union, said 55 percent of the members rejected the contract. The union had recommended accepting the contract to protect two-thirds of the workers' jobs.

The contract required a simple majority for approval. There was no strike vote.

"There's a lot of mistrust out there about the company," Wood said. "And those were very, very deep demands and cuts by the company."

Negotiations on a new contract will begin next August, when the current one expires, he said.

Gov. Mark Parkinson brokered a deal last week to try to keep five major production lines in Wichita after reports emerged that Louisiana had offered the debt-ridden aircraft maker millions in incentives to lure its 6,000 jobs to Baton Rouge. Kansas' incentives are contingent on the company reaching a long-term deal with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Wood said it wasn't clear how the workers' vote would affect Parkinson's agreement with Hawker Beechcraft.

"You would have to ask the company and the governor," he said.

Some 350 salaried employees will be laid off by Nov. 1. The union had estimated about 820 of the approximately 1,720 machinists' jobs would have been cut under the proposed contract. It was not immediately clear what would happen to those jobs now.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said the rejection of the contract offer was "very disappointing news."

"As Mayor, I will be in contact with the various parties in an attempt to bring a positive outcome to this very troubling situation," he said in an e-mailed statement.

Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture said the company had presented its best offer, and he was also was disappointed with the vote.

"The company will continue exploring all options and making a series of business decisions in order to remain profitable and competitive in this smaller market," Boisture said in an e-mailed statement.

Parkinson said he was still optimistic Hawker Beechcraft and the union could reach a "successful resolution."

"I look forward to their continued discussions and, ultimately, a labor agreement that will ensure Kansas keeps all of the Hawker Beechcraft product lines and the majority of jobs in Wichita for the long term," the governor said in a statement.

Hawker Beechcraft had cited Parkinson's "decisive action" as reason to stay in Kansas, saying if it could combine the state investment with its own changes and a new, long-term contract it would be in a much more stable position.

The average pay at the company is now $27 an hour. Along with a 10 percent cut in pay, the contract would have called for union members to progressively shoulder a greater share of their health care insurance costs. Pension benefits would have remained unchanged.

Since union members approved the last contract two years ago, Hawker Beechcraft has said it will close its Salina plant and issued several rounds of layoff notices at its Wichita facility. The machinists union now represents about 2,600 workers, compared to 5,200 in 2008.
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