Boeing workers use secret-ballot against union

The director of the Boeing Co. engineers union soon could face his first major leadership test: a challenge to the labor group's representation in Kansas. Just months after being hired as the executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, Ray Goforth may need to convince workers at Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems to keep union representation. Some Spirit employees are collecting signatures to force a vote on whether SPEEA should continue to represent professional and technical workers at the Kansas site.

The union is ready to answer a decertification vote, said Bill Dugovich, SPEEA's communications director. The Spirit employees trying to oust SPEEA have until May 11 to file their petition, which needs signatures from 30 percent of the represented workers. A vote likely wouldn't take place until sometime this summer.

"We'll respond as we have in the past by emphasizing the benefits of being part of a union," Dugovich said.

SPEEA's contract with Spirit does not expire until 2011. However, their agreement calls for the union and aerospace manufacturing company to discuss wage and benefit increases this summer.

"The negotiations are going to proceed," Dugovich said. "We're keeping an eye on what's going on in the workplace."

Spirit builds the Boeing 737's fuselage as well as the forward sections of the 747, 767 and 777 jets. The aerospace company also supplies composite barrel sections for Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner.

This fall, SPEEA also is scheduled to begin talks with Boeing to negotiate a new three-year contract for Puget Sound area members.

SPEEA represents about 24,000 engineers and technical workers across the country at companies including Boeing, Spirit, BAE Systems and Triumph Composite Systems. More than 2,300 SPEEA- represented workers would be affected by a decertification challenge at Spirit in Wichita.

Bonuses given to nonunion workers and management are causing discontent among SPEEA members at Spirit. In a survey published by SPEEA this month, about 93 percent of Spirit respondents believe they should be included in the company's bonus program. Bonuses ranked as the second most important issue, next to wage increases, for negotiations, according to the survey.

This is the second effort to get rid of SPEEA in Kansas in the past year. A right-to-work state, Kansas has proved difficult for SPEEA in terms of cultivating members. Only about 27 percent of Spirit professional and technical workers are dues-paying SPEEA members. About 94 percent of technical workers at Boeing's Everett plant belong to the union.

Last June, Boeing defense workers at the Wichita Professional and Technical Unit voted 408-353 to drop SPEEA.

Shortly afterward, four members of SPEEA's executive board forced out the union's long-time director, Charles Bofferding. Those board members later were recalled, but Bofferding was not reinstated. The union went without an executive director for six months.

SPEEA's contract with Boeing expires Dec. 1. The union, which represents more than 20,000 workers in the Puget Sound area, staged a 40-day strike against the company in 2000.

SPEEA's Goforth, who started his job in February, already has labeled some recent actions by Boeing as "aggressive." Earlier this month, the union's new director told The Herald he believes that "Boeing corporate is seeking to eliminate union protection where they can."


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