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Union holds meeting with laid-off Spirit AeroSystems employees

Published: Jan. 24, 2020 at 7:25 PM CST
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Update 8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, 2020

The president and CEO of Spirit AeroSystems Friday night met with workers laid off from the company due to halted production of the Boeing 737 MAX jet.

Workers say Spirit President and CEO Tom Gentile attended the closed-door meeting at the Machinists Union Hall. Many workers at that meeting say they did not expect to see Gentile there.

Gentile and union representatives went into detail about what laid-off workers need to do next. Workers say Gentile was honest with them about how the layoffs came for the 2,800 impacted employees.

"I think it gave everybody the belief that 'hey, look, we're not just being kicked to the curb,' that this is a problem," former Spirit employee William Horton says.

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As layoffs continue at Spirit AeroSystems, tensions rise between impacted employees and the union that represents them.

Some from a large group of Machinists Union members in Wichita say they feel cheated. They say part of their agreement with the union they pay in to represent them is communication. But in the case of the layoffs at Spirit, they say the union hasn't done its part to keep them informed.

Some employees received their layoff notices before the start of their shifts Friday morning. Others say they didn't learn they were being laid off until security denied them access to the facility when they showed up for work.

"I went to work and I attempted to scan my Id through the gate. That's how you get in, and it would not let me in," former Spirit employee William Horton says. "I contacted security to figure out what the situation was. When they reviewed everything, they determined I had been on the layoff list, which I had not been told."

Horton says when he tried to contact the union, he got no answer. Horton is among the now former Spirit employees who say the union is silent when they need it the most.

"I'm not upset about the layoffs. That's no one's fault, that's just what's happened. I'm not upset with Spirit because Spirit has been really good about letting us know things," Horton says. "What I'm upset about is that I have paid someone for a number of months to represent me and deal with these particular issues and ensure that any rights or anything I have is taken care of. And that's not what's happening, not just for me, but for a number of others."

Members of the Wichita Machinists Union are now taking their concerns to the national union.

"I'm contacting the national union and asking them, 'what are we supposed to do,' because my local (union) is not representing me," Horton says. "it's not just me. It's other individuals. We want answers. We pay for this. We want to know, why is our union no representing us in this layoff?"

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