NEW YORK (The Deal) -- The union representing machinists at Spirit AeroSystems Holdings (SPR) said Friday it plans to file suit to block the company from outsourcing union jobs by selling assets, the latest twist to Spirit's long-running auction.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is threatening the suit despite Spirit not formally announcing any plans to sell the units. But Wichita, Kan.-based Spirit has been considering options for some assets for about a year, and the businesses that the IAM are worried about being sold have been the subject of deal speculation in recent months.
Sources said Friday that the IAM action could be an indication that a deal announcement is close.
Spirit in August 2013 put its Oklahoma wing assembly operations on the block as part of a review sparked by new CEO Larry Lawson. That auction has moved in fits and starts in the months since, with Spirit according to sources exploring a number of potential avenues to try to shed some of its poorer-performing operations.
The company according to sources has attempted to sell off its money-losing business making business jet wings while keeping the more lucrative work making assemblies for Boeing (BA), but has found only tepid interest for the business jet operation. Sources said earlier this summer that Spirit has also discussed divesting some of its Wichita-based fabrication operations as a way to potentially offset losses it might incur from selling part of the wing unit.
The idea that Spirit could sell off the fabrication business and instead use outside contractors in place of union employees in support functions is what has the IAM up in arms. The union in a statement said it believes such actions would breach its labor agreement, and said it would request an injunction prohibiting Spirit from selling the fabrication unit or outsourcing any union jobs pending arbitration.
"The new leadership at Spirit AeroSystems is embarking on the same misguided approach that caused customers to wait an extra two years for Boeing 787 Dreamliner deliveries," IAM president R. Thomas Buffenbarger said in a statement.
Lawson on a conference call with analysts earlier this month said the auction is still ongoing, but admitted that if a potential deal cannot be found that is in the best interest of Spirit the company could hold on to the units. Lawson did not say why the auction was taking so long, but perhaps hinted at potential labor unrest in saying that the timing on deals is "proportional to the number of stakeholders" involved.
Sources have named British manufacturer GKN as a potential buyer of Spirit assets.
Spirit officials have repeatedly declined to comment on deal rumors.