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Contractor Strike At McConnell AFB Could Impact KC-46 Training

Deborah Shaar
FlightSafety workers train Air Force personnel on cargo loading procedures for the new KC-46 Pegasus tanker.

The workers who do training for refueling crews at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita are on strike.

Seventeen members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) union walked off the job Tuesday morning, and plan to picket outside McConnell 12 hours a day.

They work for FlightSafety Services Corporation. The Air Force has a contract with Flight Safety to maintain the KC-46 training simulator at McConnell, and to oversee the training program for pilots and refueling boom operators.

Union spokesman Scott Gardner says workers rejected the company’s final contract offer because it did not include a designation that determines wages.

"We hope that FlightSafety Services and the government will come together and add the Service Contract Act language into the contract," Gardner says.

As part of the Service Contract Act, or SCA government rule, contractors and subcontractors are required to pay area wages and benefits that are determined by the government. Without such a designation, Gardner says, IAM members at McConnell AFB are paid 45 percent less than their counterparts working in the same industry.

A spokesman with FlightSafety Services says the company is working with the union to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

Gardner says contract negotiations began in October. Workers plan to picket outside McConnell from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“I do not know the duration of the strike," Gardner says. "The IAM members of Local Lodge 708 would definitely be willing to sit back down at the table with the Service Contract Act language being added back into the contract."

Credit Deborah Shaar / KMUW

Several KC-46 tankers arrived at McConnell in the past two weeks. KC-46 crews use a replica of the tanker’s main cargo deck to train for cargo, maintenance, and refueling operations. They also develop new training scenarios and processes.  

The fuselage trainer is one of 16 new facilities built at McConnell AFB for KC-46 tankers.

The union’s contracts with Textron Aviation, Johnson Controls Inc. and Spirit AeroSystems expire next year.

Amanda Callahan with Air Force Public Affairs says the strike has the potential to impact KC-46 training facility operations at both McConnell and Altus Air Force Bases.

"Some union personnel from the McConnell area also provide support to Altus AFB.  The Air Force remains neutral in this labor dispute," Callahan says.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.