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Another Dose Of Bad News For Wichita's Economy: More Furloughs At Spirit

Elaine Thompson/AP/NPR

Wichita’s already weakened economy took another blow with the news that Spirit AeroSystems will furlough a number of workers for three weeks.

The furloughs will affect employees who work directly on any Boeing commercial program, according to a Facebook post from Local Lodge 839 of the Machinist Union.

The union said the number of layoffs is unknown. But the bulk of Spirit's roughly 10,000 employees work on Boeing programs.

The company laid off 2,800 employees earlier this year who worked on the Boeing 737 Max, which remains grounded more than a year after two fatal crashes.

Spirit, the city’s largest private employer, has not publicly released information about the furloughs. The news follows an announcement by Boeing that it was continuing a production halt in the Seattle area and South Carolina.

According to the union’s post, Spirit employees not furloughed will begin four-day workweeks beginning Friday until further notice. The company's executives and board of directors will take a 20 percent pay cut.

The furloughs will affect Spirit workers in Wichita, San Antonio, Tulsa and McAlester, Okla. Furloughed workers will maintain their benefits, including health care, the union said.

Spirit employees who work on other programs, such as Airbus or defense contracts, will continue their normal schedules.

It has been a rough several months for Spirit, first because of the troubled Boeing 737 Max and now because of the coronavirus.

Spirit produces about 70% of the 737 Max at its facility in south Wichita, including the fuselage. The program accounts for half of the company's annual revenue.

Last summer, about 6,000 employees worked four-day weeks for 10 weeks because of uncertainty over when the 737 Max would return to service.

In December, Spirit halted 737 Max production after Boeing said it would no longer take deliveries. On Jan. 6, Spirit offered voluntary layoffs. Later that same week, it said it would lay off 2,800 workers because of the continued grounding of the 737 Max.

On March 24, the company said employees engaged with Boeing programs would take a two-week paid furlough. That followed Boeing’s announcement that it would temporarily shut down its Puget Sound operations.

The furlough was supposed to end this week and Spirit had announced plans to resume production when Boeing said Sunday it would extend that shut down indefinitely. The decision affects about 30,000 of Boeing’s 70,000 employees in Washington state.

On Monday, the company also said it would close its plant in North Charleston, S.C., which assembles the 787 Dreamliner.

Boeing said the decision was based on the health and safety of its employees, assessment of the coronavirus spread, supply chain concerns and recommendations from government health officials. “We will take this time to continue to listen to our incredible team, and assess applicable government direction, the spread of the coronavirus in the community, and the reliability of our suppliers to ensure we are ready for a safe and orderly return to operations,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal.

The company said that at the end of the day Friday, it had 133 confirmed cases among employees worldwide, up from 118 a day earlier. Of those, 95 employees are in Washington.

Tom Shine is the director of news and public affairs at KMUW. Follow him on Twitter @thomaspshine.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.