9/8/08

IAM striker: I didn't think Boeing was serious

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Strike spreads quickly among labor-states

Machinists in Gresham (OR) didn't expect a strike against Boeing, but they found themselves on the picket line Saturday along Northeast Sandy Boulevard. Every 30 seconds or so, a car horn interrupted conversations as a driver waved or gave the workers a thumbs up. Some drivers yelled their support.

"That's because around here, they all probably know at least one person who works at Boeing," said John Curtis, 58, of Troutdale. "They know what Boeing is like."

Boeing's largest union, the International Machinists and Aerospace Workers, went on strike at the aircraft maker's plants in Gresham, Seattle and Wichita, Kan., at midnight. About 1,250 workers at the Gresham facility walked off the job.

This is the Machinists' second strike in as many contract negotiations with Boeing. They struck for 24 days in 2005.

"I thought they were just testing us," said Ellis Louey, 63, of Vancouver. "I didn't think they were serious."

Curtis and Louey assemble engine mounts for Boeing's 737 aircraft. They said the company's last offer was constructed so that the salary gains were eaten up by higher health-insurance premiums.

"If they had just left the medical the way it was, we wouldn't be out here," Curtis said.

Boeing spokesman Tim Healy said the company is open to further discussion, but both sides were too far apart to reach agreement. He added that no additional talks were scheduled.

Union members Wednesday voted 80 percent to reject Boeing's final three-year contract offer and 87 percent to go on strike, mainly over job security.

The Machinists, representing about 25,000 workers in the Puget Sound area, 1,250 in the Portland area and about 750 in Wichita, Kan., began picketing at 12:01 a.m. with the expiration of a 48-hour contract extension that had been requested by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and a federal mediator.

Negotiations with the aid of the mediator during the extension failed to resolve the dispute over pay, outsourcing, retirement benefits, health-care provisions and other issues.

It's the first time the union has struck in consecutive contract cycles at Boeing and the shortest period -- three years -- between walkouts.

The company said it would not try to assemble planes during the strike.

Boeing's commercial airplane operations, based in the Seattle area, have led a resurgence by the company during the past two years amid heavy orders for the much-awaited and increasingly delayed 787.

Analysts have said a strike could cost Boeing about $100 million a day in deferred revenue.

During the last strike, Boeing was unable to deliver more than two dozen airplanes on schedule. As of July, Boeing reported a backlog of airplane orders totaling $346 billion.

(oregonlive.com)

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