Textron Aviation workers hold rally as contract deadline approaches

Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 11:46 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Textron Aviation workers in Wichita have their eyes on the calendar. In 10 days their current contract will expire and negotiations are ongoing to hammer out a new deal. Thursday afternoon, the union held a solidarity rally at Century II as workers are making their position known in what they want in the new contract.

Those gathered Thursday said their main concerns are healthcare, pension and wages. The labor union and Textron Aviation began negotiating the terms fo the new contract last month. This comes after several difficult months for the aviation industry brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Larry Shannon and Kim Webb were among those gathered at Century II Thursday. They’ve worked for Textron Aviation for more than 20 years and say top of mind for them in the new contract is healthcare.

“We want better healthcare. That’s for sure. We basically have no healthcare, we’re paying our own,” Shannon said.

The Textron workers said since the company makes smaller aircraft, they feel like they’re in a better position in the negotiations.

“People don’t want to fly commercial, so we’re actually starting to see a pick-up in sales," Webb said. “They always say it’s never a good time to negotiate a contract. Well, now is a good time.”

It has not been a good time for the aviation industry as a whole."

“I think we should be very concerned,” said Wichita State Associate Professor of Sociology Chase Billingham.

Billingham studies urban sociology, including economic development, diversity and urban policy. He said the slowdown in air travel and previous challenges with Boeing’s 737 MAX are impacting many areas of the local economy.

“(It’s) going to be important for the city to be thinking about, how do you support the aircraft manufacturing industry, which is really the core of the regional economy?" he said.

Billingham said it likely won’t be an easy and quick rebound for the industry.

“Once air travel does resume at levels similar to what we saw before the pandemic, it’s going to be a while before that translates into new aircraft orders and new aircraft part orders that are going to benefit the manufacturing firms here in Wichita,” he said.

Eyewitness News on Thursday also reached out to Textron Aviation about the contract negotiations. The company provided a statement, saying, "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. 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.”

Union members are scheduled to vote on a new contact one week from Saturday (Sept. 19).

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