Union leader in Kansas criticizes states for using federal money to lure jobs from each other

By Roxana Hegeman, AP
Friday, August 20, 2010

Union starts contract talks with Kan. plane maker

WICHITA, Kan. — Labor unions nationwide are fighting to keep jobs as states use federal stimulus money to attract employers from elsewhere, essentially moving jobs around rather than creating new ones, the head of the machinists union said Friday.

Machinists international president Tom Buffenbarger said there is something wrong when other states can use economic stimulus money to lure employers from Kansas.

“All we are doing is shifting resources, we are not creating new resources,” he said. “The way I viewed stimulus funds and government policy was to expand jobs, make more opportunities — not just move them from point A to point B.”

His comments came as the union began labor talks with Cessna Aircraft Co. The union represents about 2,500 machinists whose contract with Cessna expires in September.

The Cessna talks started one day after the Machinists began early negotiations with Wichita aircraft maker Hawker Beechcraft amid reports that company is considering moving production to other states or out of the country. About 2,400 machinists work at Hawker Beechcraft.

“We are here with Cessna with the same understanding of the conditions Hawker Beechcraft faces … a national economy that has been devastating to many of the enterprises we represent,” Buffenbarger said.

These are “difficult times,” he said, adding that the economic crisis and its impact on the aviation industry have been unprecedented in his working life.

Buffenbarger’s sentiments were echoed Friday by Cessna chief executive Jack Pelton, who noted that when negotiations started three years ago for the current contract, the company felt it had unlimited potential.

“We had production rates that were growing, we had backlogs that were stronger than they have ever been in our entire history,” Pelton said. “And here we are three years later, due to circumstances none of us created, in an environment that we are really clinging on to survival in this industry.”

Since the last negotiations, the company’s backlog and its work force have been cut in half, he said.

“We are not sure we have seen the bottom,” Pelton said. “We are still seeing very, very tough economic conditions. We had thought that the economy was going to be recovering at this point in time.”

The aircraft industry typically lags about 24 months after the overall economy improves, he noted.

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