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Union split on Boeing offer; strike looms

Keywords: Tags  Boeing, SPEEA, aerospace, contract offer, strike vote, Ray Conner, Frank Haflich

LOS ANGELES — Boeing Co.’s largest white-collar union split in a vote on the company’s latest labor contract offer, raising the possibility that technical workers—but not engineers—at the aerospace giant could go on strike.

Some 15,000 engineers accepted Boeing’s proposed four-year deal, but some 7,400 technicians turned down the company’s contract offer, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) union said this week.

Chicago-based Boeing said it was pleased that the engineers approved the contract, but it was "deeply disappointed" that technicians turned down its offer and authorized a strike. Union members have been working without a contract at Boeing since November.

Meanwhile, hours after the vote results were announced, SPEEA said it had contacted Boeing and a federal mediator in an attempt to resume talks. A union spokesman wasn’t able to provide a response from Boeing, and a company spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment. Boeing has already called the contract that was rejected by technicians its "best and final" offer.

SPEEA engineers voted 54 percent in favor of Boeing’s contract proposal, while technicians rejected it by a margin of 53 percent. However, in a separate vote, both groups voted to give union officials authorization to strike. While the SPEEA spokesman acknowledged the split vote was "a bit of a surprise," he described the agreement on a strike authorization as "a real sign of solidarity" between the engineers and technical workers.

However, the union has acknowledged that while engineers and technicians bargain at the same time, their labor agreements are "separate and independent." Should technical workers walk out, the engineers would not be authorized to call a sympathy strike and would continue working, SPEEA said, but the engineers could "provide inside support" to the technicians; further explanation was not given.

While Boeing’s offer extended several components of its previous contracts, including 5-percent annual wage hikes and no increases in employee contributions for medical coverage, new hires would be offered a 401(k)-type retirement package instead of a more traditional pension package, which the union claims would slash retirement benefits by more than 40 percent. Moreover, the union said, Boeing has refused to ensure that existing employees’ benefits won’t be affected by changes to Social Security regulations that are now being considered by Congress.

Boeing was compelled to make changes from its previous retirement packages by the "realities of the market" in today’s "competitive environment," Ray Conner, president and chief executive officer of the aerospace manufacturer’s Boeing Commercial Airplanes subsidiary, said in a statement.

Boeing’s previous contract offer was rejected by more than 95 percent of union engineers and technicians (, Oct. 12). The union represents more than 23,000 Boeing employees, most of whom are in the Puget Sound area of the Pacific Northwest.

The union’s last extended strike was a 40-day walkout in 2000, which reportedly caused major production delays at Boeing.

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