IAM's paltry strike-pay sustains Boeing strikers

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"Nation gets a preview of Barackonomics" • "Trickle down strike-onomics"

The strike fund was depleted by political election campaign donations

Rosie "The Riveter" Gough works on an assembly line of sorts across the street from the Boeing Co.'s jet factory.

In the Machinists hall kitchen, Gough fixes tuna sandwiches while Al Jones bags and labels the completed product. Like their fellow Machinists who picket Boeing's factory gates, Gough and Jones put in a four-hour shift for the union, serving her time in the Machinists kitchen. With members constantly manning the picket line, the union runs the strike like a business: coordinating picketers, kitchen help, shuttle van drivers and firewood distributors.

"Boeing runs on food," Jones said.

And so do the Machinists picket lines. That's why the union has members making sandwiches, soups and coffee 24 hours a day. Van drivers shuttle new batches of food out to members stationed at Boeing's various gates around Everett. The operation will persist until the union and Boeing come to terms on a new labor contract, sending the Machinists off the strike lines and back to building aircraft. Company and union leaders are expected to meet this weekend to try to bring an end to the more than monthlong work stoppage.

Gough, who transferred to Everett from Wichita, Kan., enjoys her job at Boeing. Good food goes along with the job -- whether someone brings doughnuts in on the weekend or a manager orders teriyaki take-out for dinner.

The meals the Machinists are making on a Wednesday morning aren't quite as gourmet as what they might eat on the job. But later in the day, the next shift of members might make spaghetti, ribs or ravioli, Jones said.

"Some people are surprised that we feed them so well," he said.

But Jones notes that many of the workers who usually make meals inside Boeing's factory have been laid off due to the Machinists strike. He knows the strike affects more than just the company and union members.

"It's hard to tell how many people are affected," he said.

An hour and a half into Gough's and Jones' shift, the first van arrives, setting the kitchen workers into motion.

Richard and Cheryl Earhart, descendants of the famous Amelia Earhart, are 3 1/2 hours into an 8-hour shift driving one of the union's shuttle vans. Richard works for Boeing, while Cheryl supports her husband and the strike by accompanying him. The Everett couple drive the van two or three times weekly -- putting in more hours than the union requires to be eligible for the $150 weekly strike check.

"I get more joy out of driving shuttle -- I'd rather serve than wave a sign," Richard Earhart said.

Earhart thinks the union shocked Boeing when 87 percent of the members who voted supported the strike. After visiting with members on the line, he's confident the union has the resolve to stick it out until the members are satisfied with Boeing's offer.

"The picket lines are strong," he said.

The Earharts aren't the only union members putting in extra hours. Paul Richards, a Boeing Machinist since 1989, started hauling firewood in his own truck to the different gates on Sept. 6, the day the strike began.

"I believe in the cause," Richards said.

Richards said his wife is still working, which means he doesn't need to find temporary employment during the strike. So he donates his time, eight to 10 hours daily, to aiding the striking Machinists. He also donates the money the union reimburses him for fuel back to the Machinists' hardship fund.

"My wife, she's happy I'm doing this," he said.

As for himself, "I'm having fun. I enjoy it," Richards said.


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