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Union workers begin strike at Bombardier

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Wichita, Kan. - Machinists at Bombardier Aerospace's plant went on strike early Monday after rejecting a proposed three-year contract over the weekend that union officials had recommended they approve.
The strike, which began when the previous contract expired, was endorsed by 80 percent of the voting members Saturday, said officials for union Local 639 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. They declined to release totals.

The union represents 1,100 workers at the Wichita plant, which has about 4,000 employees.

"We're tired of being lied to, told one thing and doing another," said Brent Harp, who has worked at Bombardier for eight years. "I wanted more. They preach world-class company, but they didn't pay us world-class."

Bombardier's final offer included a wage increase of 4 percent the first year and 3 percent in each of the final two years of the contract. It also retained the current health plan with increased premiums, contained pension increases, and retained its Christmas holiday shutdown and a pension plan for new workers.

"We're surprised and disappointed, because the offer was a good one," Bombardier spokesman Leo Knaapen said Saturday after the strike vote. "We'll take the steps we have to do to make sure we continue serving our customers."

Union officials said it had been four years since the last pay raise. Three years ago, workers accepted wage freezes and other concessions because Bombardier needed to cut costs and threatened to close one or two plants.

On Friday, union negotiators unanimously recommended workers approve the contract.

"We always want better, but it addressed the issues this membership told us were important to them," said Steve Rooney, president of the District 70 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

But union members didn't agree, and early Monday morning dozens were standing at the plant's gates, holding signs expressing their anger at the contract offer. Workers planned to picket in four-hour shifts.

Rooney said labor leaders were willing to resume negotiations whenever the company chooses. But it was unknown when the two sides would return to the bargaining table.

In August, Montreal-based Bombardier, the third-largest manufacturer of civil aircraft, reported its second-quarter profits fell to $58 million from $117 million last year on lower regional jet deliveries. Its revenues for the fiscal year ended Jan. 31, 2006 were $14.7 billion, according to the company website.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This story may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.