IAM strike fund depleted for political uses

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Union doles out a paltry stipend to strikers

After three weeks without pay, $150 apiece sounds pretty good to David and Sharon Cameron.

The parents of four children, the couple walked the Machinists' picket line Tuesday outside Boeing's Everett plant. But on Saturday, they'll join thousands of Machinists in the region to collect $150 union strike checks -- the first of weekly installments in the union's strike against the aerospace giant. "We'll buy groceries," Sharon Cameron said.

The Camerons, like many Boeing Machinists, tried to save up for a possible work stoppage. He has been with Boeing since 1989, she since 1997. But both David and Sharon had recent surgeries with time off work, making them a little less prepared for a long strike than they would like.

The local 751 district of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers went on strike against Boeing on Sept. 6 after negotiators for both sides failed to come to terms on a new three-year labor contract. Although leaders for Boeing and the union speak regularly to a federal mediator, no new contract negotiations have been scheduled.

Boeing's offer to Machinists included an 11 percent general wage increase over three years and a minimum of $5,000 in bonuses in the first year. But union officials said the proposal fell short in the areas of job security, pension, wages and health insurance.

Had Boeing given modest wage increases and simply kept Machinists' benefits the same as the 2005 contract, Sharon Cameron would have been satisfied.

"It's not about the money, it's about the medical insurance," she said.

The company increased the deductible for families by $75 annually and increased the yearly out-of-pocket maximum for a family by $2,000. The Camerons have a child with epilepsy who occasionally is admitted to the hospital for medical care. Under Boeing's new medical plan, the family would need to pay $250 per hospital stay.

For Machinists Cora Santa Cruz and Mylene Cabanos, Boeing's offer failed to provide the job security the two union members wanted. Both have been with the company for more than a decade. Like the Camerons, the two women stood on picket duty Tuesday afternoon in Everett.

Both Santa Cruz and Cabanos said they worked as much overtime as possible before the strike to save up for the lack of a weekly paycheck. Santa Cruz said she'll put the money toward paying the mortgage or use it for her children.

The weekly checks, which can be collected at the Evergreen Fairgrounds in Monroe, won't come close to the $1,250 the average Machinist makes weekly including overtime. But it will come in handy as union members prepare to lose their medical coverage at the end of the month. Machinists can defer some monthly payments, not home mortgages, through Boeing Employee Credit Union, which also is approving personal loans to members to see them through the strike.

The times may be getting tougher for the Machinists, but spirits remained high Tuesday. Machinists will host a barbecue to benefit members in need. The event begins at 10 a.m. Friday at the local hall in Everett.

"We need to stay united at this time," Cabanos said.


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