WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) More layoffs began Friday at Spirit AeroSystems as Boeing and Spirit continue to wait for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to clear the 737 MAX to fly again.
The plane was grounded last March after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people. Boeing is updating software, computers and pilot training for the plane, and last month, said the MAX would likely stay grounded through mid 2020.
Following the first 2,400 layoffs, another 400 employees will lose their jobs by the start of next week, Eyewitness News learned Friday. Helping laid-off Spirit employees is a top priority for Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple and state lawmakers.
This week, lawmakers in Topeka introduced two new bills that would directly help Spirit employees. Following the second round of layoffs, nearly 3,000 new job seekers are on the market.
"I was laid off from Spirit, so i wanted to try and snag a job as soon as possible," says former Spirit employee Damien Wells. "I know 2,800 people are on the job market, (there) is going to be a lot of competition. I want to try and get in there early."
Some of the approximate 2,800 laid-off Spirit employees look for new jobs as others anxiously wait for the FAA to clear the 737 MAX to fly again.
"I was driving to work and there was a guy -- snow on the ground -- he was in a lawn chair camped out in front of an intersection with a sign that said, "i just want my job back,'" Whipple says. "There are people who are looking at these situations and they are very concerned and very doubtful of what the future looks like. My advice is, take that first step."
Now, state lawmakers are trying to buy more time to help those impacted by the layoffs. One bill introduced this week would eliminate a one-week waiting period before applying for unemployment benefits. A second bill extends unemployment benefits from 16 weeks to 26 weeks.
"It gives these workers a little more breathing room," says Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas President and CEO Keith Lawing. "A lot of times, you know, just because there's an open job and you want it, it takes time. Or, you might want to find a job that is going to have the best wages for you. So, extending unemployment benefits gives workers the right to find the right job they are looking for."
Among the resources available, the Workforce center in Wichita next Wednesday (Feb. 12) is holding a rapid response meeting to directly help Spirit employees who lost their jobs. Next Thursday (Feb. 13), there's a targeted job fair for management and administrative positions.
You can find more information on these options and other resources on the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas website.
WSU Tech is also stepping up to help by offering free tuition to laid-off aviation workers. This is not limited to former Spirit AeroSystems employees.
Friday, the college announced the Wichita Promise Scholarship, a program that will pay tuition and fees for eligible classes and programs aimed at either helping them learn new skills or add on to their existing skills to finish their associates degrees.
WSU Tech President, Dr. Sheree Utash says the issues with the 737 MAX come at a unique time.
"We want to take each of those individuals and work with you on what works for you and your situation and your family," Utash says. "And we want to provide very opportunity we can for you to stay in Wichita and ride the storm out because there is strength on the other side of this."
WSU Tech has classes starting as early as March with most re-skill classes completed in six to eight weeks.