Kansas officials quiet about details of deal to keep Hawker Beechcraft jobs, fearing counter

By John Hanna, AP
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Kansas guarding details of aviation job deal

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas officials hoped Wednesday to thwart new attempts to lure aviation jobs away from Wichita by withholding details of an agreement between the state and manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft.

Gov. Mark Parkinson hints that the deal might involve helping the company provide additional training for workers or authorizing bonds backed by tax revenues.

Parkinson promises the agreement will keep “a vast majority” of the company’s 6,000 workers in Wichita from leaving. It’s not clear what that means for Louisiana, which reportedly has tried to take at least some jobs.

Parkinson, his staff and Department of Commerce officials won’t discuss the details. They’re also stressing that any deal requires Hawker Beechcraft to reach a long-term contract with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Talks between the company and union on a new contract began in August. They were suspended as of Saturday — a week before an expected vote on a new contract. The union reported then that the company was considering a proposal to move operations to Baton Rouge, La.

Parkinson met for more than two hours Tuesday with Bill Boisture, the company’s chief executive officer, and Rich Michalski, the union’s general vice president. Afterward, Parkinson announced the Hawker Beechcraft agreement.

Parkinson spokeswoman Amy Jordan Wooden said the governor worries that if he makes the agreement’s terms public before contract negotiations finish, Louisiana or another state could make a new offer and stall the talks again. The union said talks would resume Friday, and a contract ratification vote is set for Oct. 16.

“Once the talks broke off this weekend, then, that’s a problem,” Jordan Wooden said. “We’re not going to get to the finish line if that’s the status.”

The Associated Press asked the Department of Commerce for the details of the agreement. But the department declined, citing a provision in the Kansas Open Records Act that allows government agencies to close internal documents about proposals in development.

“There are a lot of details to be finalized,” Jordan Wooden said.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Parkinson described the agreement with Hawker Beechcraft as similar to one this summer between the state and Bombardier Aerospace. He also said the Hawker Beechcraft agreement could include training monies.

In the Bombardier deal, the state authorized $27 million in bonds for a company expansion. The bonds are to be paid off over seven years, with income taxes withheld from the paychecks of new and existing workers that normally would flow to the state.

The Bombardier agreement falls under a state law encouraging aviation companies to expand.

Asked how the Hawker Beechcraft agreement compares to the Bombardier deal, Jordan Wooden said, “There really is no answer I could give you, other than it’s similar.”

The state also has incentives, including tax breaks, for encouraging companies to retrain workers.

A Hawker Beechcraft spokeswoman did not return telephone messages left on her office and cell phones.

“This is so big,” said machinists union spokesman Bob Wood. “If nothing came out of the government, there is nothing we could have done. There is no contract we could have come up with that would have kept the work here.”

A union flier over the weekend said Hawker Beechcraft had informed the union of an offer from Louisiana. Under the offer, the flier said, Hawker Beechcraft “would no longer exist in Kansas.”

Both regional and state economic development officials in Louisiana declined to discuss their state’s efforts.

“For competitive reasons and to protect confidential company information, we can’t comment on current or potential prospects,” said Stephen Moret, Louisiana’s economic development secretary.

In July, Boisture said Hawker Beechcraft also was considering moving work to Mississippi. But a spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour said he didn’t know of any such discussions.

Also contributing to this report were Associated Press writers John Milburn in Topeka, Kan.; Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kan.; Alan Sayre in New Orleans, La., and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.


Hawker Beechcraft: www.hawkerbeechcraft.com/

Machinists union: www.goiam.org/

Kansas governor: www.governor.ks.gov

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