Wichita Workers Get A Helping Hand

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Beleaguered aerospace workers in Wichita got a small break in late April, one they might technically not be entitled to, but welcome nonetheless. Thanks to some furious lobbying by one of their congressmen, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Goddard), the Department of Labor has agreed to apply an unemployment insurance benefit extension for laid-off airline workers to those who have lost their jobs at Wichita's four aviation manufacturers. "It's a done deal," Tiahrt told The Wichita Eagle. The package will give the workers an extra 26 weeks of benefits, even if their claims have already run out. It was part of a $3.1 billion aid package aimed at airlines affected by 9/11 and the war in Iraq and there were fears it wouldn't apply to the Wichita workers. In the end, the federal Department of Labor decided it would let the state of Kansas interpret the eligibility standards for the extension and you can guess how they're handling that. State officials found a thread to hang the Wichita eligibility on with the bill's phrasing that the extension can apply to an "upstream producer or supplier for an air carrier." While Boeing workers in Wichita clearly qualified, it wasn't so certain for Raytheon, Bombardier and Cessna employees.

In fact, Cessna spokeswoman Marilyn Richwine had a hard time believing her company qualified but quickly accepted Tiarht's assurance. "It appears he should be the one who knows," she told the Eagle. But it's not just Wichita that's suffering. Gulfstream Aerospace announced Thursday it will close its Savannah, Ga., plant for most of July to allow production to match demand of its pricey bizjets. Other plants in California, Massachusetts, Texas, Wisconsin and Mexico will not be affected.