WICHIA, Kan. - Machinist union members are on strike against Bombardier Learjet. The strike comes after union members overwhelmingly rejected Bombardier’s contract offer with a 79% vote. Strikers set up pickets outside the plant at Harry and Tyler Road as the contract expired at Midnight Monday.
Striking machinists tried to persuade arriving employees to turn around and go home. The early hours of a strike’s first day are often the liveliest. Car lines backed up for miles as those not covered by the contract inched their way to work. Union members say they have the right to stop each car and explain their labor dispute with the company.
In a statement released after Saturday’s vote, Bombardier says it stands behind the offer, which 79% of union members rejected. Picketers say the strike is something they’re pushed into. "We've only got a few issues that we're hung up on,” says union negotiator Ken Lewellen. “The biggest is medical benefits."
As expected, a court injunction was announced just before noon Monday, which spelled out rules, such as how many picketers can walk the line at a time. "We're going to have to start limiting it to six picketers here,” Lewellen says. “And we're going to have to have four over here where the plane is."
Picketing lines were then also set up as other company entrances were opened. Bombardier’s statement also says company negotiators are ready to talk. The union says it’s also ready, but only if certain health benefits are included in the talks. "The main sticking point is the health care and when they're ready to put the HMOs back on the table we're ready to talk,” says machinist union spokesman Bob Wood. “This is a Canadian company and we think they just don't get it."
Now we know what it will take to get negotiations resumed, and we’ll be watching for any movement on that. For now, things are becoming somewhat orderly for such a job action as this. This is only the second time Bombardier machinists have gone on strike. 1,100 workers walked off the job in October of 2006. That strike lasted for 3 weeks.