Strike slows work at Dassault Wilmington

 - March 30, 2007, 11:57 AM

An impasse in negotiations by unionized workers and the Dassault Falcon Jet Wilmington, Del. facility remained unresolved at press time, leaving some 100 workers on strike. Contract negotiations broke down between the company and United Auto Workers Local 1542 on March 8, but they were scheduled to reopen on March 23 (for the latest, see “As We Go To Press” on page 3).

Previous contracts that started with the facility’s former owner, Atlantic Aviation, had gone back to 1992. They continued through Dassault Falcon Jet’s acquisition of the Atlantic Aviation assets at New Castle County Airport in 2000.

The old contract had, in fact, been extended several days in an effort to iron out differences, but union representatives rejected what was described as Falcon Jet’s final offer. Union and company officials agree that pay increases formed the main ground for failure of the negotiations. Details of Falcon Jet’s final offer were not made available.

Before the walkout, said a spokesman at Falcon Jet headquarters in Little Ferry, N.J., “We were making progress. It was a much better package than what they had [but] they didn’t find it satisfactory.”

The Wilmington facility has approximately 236 employees, of which about 130 are union members who originally walked out.

Since the strike began, according to Dassault, nearly 70 employees have returned to work, including new hires who had not yet qualified to join the union. Falcon Jet’s spokesman said additional union members have “indicated to us” that they want to return to work. A decision on those requests, he added, will depend on the workload, which was reduced as a result of the strike.

In the meantime, the spokesman said, a contingency plan has been put into effect and supervisors and managers, “many of whom had previous experience on the line,” are filling in for the striking workers. “Essential and critical work is continuing,” he said. “We’re pumping fuel, AOG requirements are being handled and aircraft in the facility are being worked on.”

He further noted that some Falcon Jet owners who had previously been told the facility would not be able to accept their aircraft for work have now been called to reschedule. If necessary, the spokesman added, aircraft might be sent to Falcon Jet’s Little Rock, Ark. facility.

Falcon Jet Wilmington represents an upgrade investment of approximately $30 million, making the facility an integral part of a major restructuring of the company’s service and support network. The improvements include a new $9 million three-bay paint shop, an increase in capacity and capabilities of the engine shop and renovation of the structural-repair center. Falcon Jet also intends to provide more extensive support for the fleet of older Falcon 10s and 20s through its Wilmington service center.

Shortly after acquiring the old Atlantic Aviation assets, Falcon Jet announced its plans as a “partnering [with the state of Delaware] on development projects that will benefit both the local economy and help expand business at the Dassault factory-owned Falcon service center.”

The decision to relocate to Wilmington was based partly on approval of a bill eliminating the retail gross receipts tax on large aircraft sales in Delaware.