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Striking Kan. machinists to vote on new contract

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Machinists at Bombardier Learjet are expected to vote Saturday on a tentative contract offer that could end a monthlong strike at the plane maker's Wichita plant.

The union, which represents about 825 workers at the plant, is recommending that its members approve the five-year contract.

"This was certainly an improvement over the last offer — a substantial improvement — and we think our members have a right to vote on it," said union spokesman Bob Wood. "We have improved it, but obviously you don't get everything you want."

Bombardier Learjet spokeswoman Peggy Gross declined comment.

The agreement was reached Thursday with the help of federal mediators. Union members will vote from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the district lodge.

Machinists walked off the job Oct. 8 after rejecting a five-year contract offer over the length of the proposal and an increase in health insurance costs.

The new offer still includes no wage increase the first year and a 1 percent wage bump the next four years as in the earlier offer, but this one also offers a bigger signing bonus of $2,500.

Health care was the primary issue that caused the strike, and it was therefore the focus of the mediation, the union said.

The employee's share of the health insurance premium was reduced from 30 percent to 20 percent, with an extra 5 percent savings for employees who participate in the wellness program. That would bring the employee share of the health insurance premium to 15 percent for those who participate in the wellness program.

Union officials estimate the health care improvements mean an employee with single coverage will see a $700 annual reduction in health insurance deductions. Employees with family coverage will see a $2,300 annual savings compared to the company's pre-strike offer, the union said.

In 2006, machinists were on strike for three weeks in the first work stoppage in the plant's history.