WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- The union representing engineers at Spirit AeroSystems Inc. accused the aerospace company Wednesday of terminating hundreds of workers last year because they were too old and a burden on health insurance costs, claims that the company vehemently denies.
The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace made the allegations in discrimination complaints that 10 ex-employees filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming they were laid off after Spirit became a self-insured company.
The former workers also want the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate whether the Wichita aerospace company unlawfully obtained their confidential medical information.
Spirit AeroSystems said in an emailed statement that the union's allegations are filled with distortions and misstatements, and that personal health information is not used to make layoff decisions.
Last July, Spirit laid off 360 salaried and managerial employees, including 221 SPEEA-represented engineers, technical workers and other professionals. Three weeks before the terminations, the company changed its medical coverage from an underwritten form of medical insurance to a self-funded insurance program. The union contends that change means every dollar not paid out in medical claims stays in the company's bank account.
Among those who lost their jobs was Gail Haug, who went to work for Boeing in July 1974 and what became Spirit AeroSystems after Boeing sold its Wichita operations. He contends he had gotten high job performance ratings until he was reprimanded for speaking up during a crew meeting.
Haug, 61, told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that his wife has "medical issues."
"It is hard to accept that Spirit would do this to us and take our medical — just when we will probably need it the most," he said.
He contends that an investigation of the layoffs by the union and its legal counsel showed an "alarming trend" in which a very high percentage of the terminated workers were older, had medical issues or had family members who did. Most had high work performance ratings just a year earlier.
"When you factor in that Spirit became self-insured this last year, it became evident what was going on," Haug said. "In order to save money, Spirit was willing to sacrifice its long-term employees."
Spirit contends that while terminations are always difficult, all such decisions are based on job-related, non-discriminatory criteria. It said the vast majority of affected employees accepted the company's severance package.
"These actions were required to balance the workforce, reduce overhead costs, and hire hourly workers for the factory," the company said. "This was done to become more competitive in a cost-sensitive environment."