8/30/08

IAM preps workers for strike v. Boeing

Related video: "IAM bigs prep Boeing clash"

The Boeing Co.'s Machinists could go on strike Thursday based on a recommendation from their leadership to reject the company's contract offer. "We do not take lightly the fact that we have recommended a strike," said Tom Wroblewski, local district president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, in a press conference Friday.

However, Boeing's final offer on a new three-year contract "has fallen short of the expectations of our members" regarding job security, wages, pension and medical benefits, Wroblewski said. As a result, Machinists leaders are urging the 24,000 members in the Puget Sound region to reject Boeing's offer during a Wednesday vote.

A strike would idle Boeing's factories, which industry observers say could cost the company $100 million a day.

Last Thursday, the company presented the union with its "best and final" offer, including an 11 percent pay hike over three years, a $2,500 signing bonus, another lump sum payment of at least $2,500 in the first year and an increase in monthly pension payments to $78 for each year of service. The aerospace giant withdrew several controversial proposals -- ones the union deemed as takeaways -- such as carving Wichita out of the bargaining unit or eliminating pension and retiree medical benefits for new Machinists. Company spokesman Jim Proulx said Boeing negotiators are "extremely disappointed" by Machinists leaders' decision to reject what Boeing calls the "best contract in the industry."

Preliminary negotiations began months earlier than they have in previous years. But the Machinists alleged on Friday that the company tried to bypass union leaders and negotiate directly with the members. The union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Boeing's Proulx denied the union's claims.

Analyst Richard Aboulafia, with the Teal Group, noted the difference in Boeing's approach to negotiations this year. "Boeing has been talking directly with the members," Aboulafia said. "It's an aggressive tactic."

If Boeing sways enough Machinists to accept its contract offer, then the tactic will prove successful, Aboulafia said. That's something the company may keep in mind when it heads into contract talks with its engineers union later this year.

Analyst Aboulafia said the cost of a strike is a tough number to determine due to unknown penalty fees, discounts and agreements with airlines. Instead, he suggested what really matters is how quickly Boeing could catch up from a strike. That will be particularly true of Boeing's 787 program.

Boeing increased significantly the amount of work it awarded to outside partners on its 787 Dreamliner, a jet that has been delayed as a result of supplier and production problems. The union wants to strengthen its oversight of outsourcing and secure assurances on materials delivery and facilities maintenance work for its members. Boeing has said it met some of the union's demands.

Issues such as job security are up to union members to consider as they head into the long holiday weekend. Boeing isn't expected to resume talks with the Machinists over the weekend, despite willingness of the union to do so.

"We are focused entirely on helping the Machinists understand the offer," Proulx said. "We hope our employees recognize the benefits of our best and final offer."

But many Machinists who stopped by the union's hall in Everett on Friday didn't think highly of Boeing's proposals.

"Every three years, we have to fight for our pensions and we have to fight for our medical benefits. It's just getting tiring," said Tim Brewer, a Boeing worker for 11 years.

The Machinists staged a 28-day strike against Boeing in 2005. Its leaders recommended a strike in 2002 but failed to get two-thirds of the members to agree to strike. The Machinists' Wroblewski believes that won't be a problem this time around.

"We've got leverage this time," Wroblewski said.

(heraldnet.com)

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