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Soaring Where Boeing Struggled

How spin-off Spirit AeroSystems built a new model for worker-management cooperation

For union workers,a new corporate owner usually means one thing: mass layoffs. So it comes as quite a surprise that, after buying Boeing Co.'s (BA ) Wichita aircraft plant, the Toronto private investment firm Onex Corp. kept on most of the 4,000 employees.

Of course, the Machinists union wasn't happy that more than 800 people lost their jobs. But the new owners helped ease the pain by giving the remaining workers $246 million in cash and stock options. The money was a reward for helping the company, now named Spirit AeroSystems, cut costs and pull off a successful initial public offering. "I can't tell you what a thrill it is to give our organized workforce nearly $250 million," says Seth M. Mersky, an Onex managing director.