Create a free account to continue

Machinists Union Tells Boeing To ‘Get Serious’

Union wants language covering members job security to be strengthened; Boeing hopes to present a final offer by Friday.

SEATTLE (AP) -- A spokeswoman for the Machinists union scoffed at the latest contract offer from Boeing Co. on Tuesday and warned the company to "get serious" if it wants to avoid a work stoppage.

Chicago-based Boeing's latest draft eliminated two of three proposals the union had objected to, changed outsourcing language, bumped a wage increase to 9 percent over three years and raised the basic pension benefit. It also included a yearly 3 percent cost of living adjustment.

But the proposals Boeing eliminated -- a new, non-pension retirement plan for workers hired after this year, and separate contract negotiations for workers in Wichita -- never should have been on the table to begin with, said Connie Kelliher, a spokeswoman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 751.

The offer would not strengthen union members' job security or make enough overall improvements, and would still take away or downgrade some existing benefits, such as by increasing co-payments for medical office visits, she said.

"The company needs to get serious about these issues or they are going to have a work stoppage on their hands," Kelliher said.

Boeing spokesman Tim Healy called the offer "outstanding," and noted that negotiations continue.

"We need to share the success of the company with our employees, but we also have to sustain that success into the future -- for everybody's benefit," he said.

The company wants to have a final and best offer to the union before Labor Day weekend. The current contract expires Sept. 3.

About 18,400 machinists in the Seattle area, Wichita, and the Portland area struck for four weeks in 2005, forcing the company to halt production of commercial airplanes. The machinists assemble Boeing's commercial planes and some key components. The union represents 25,000 Boeing employees in the Seattle area, around 1,800 in Wichita and 800 in Portland.

The union wants language covering its members' job security to be strengthened. In 2002, the union accepted weakened language -- and other concessions -- due to the economic downturn after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Kelliher said.

"The language they have proposed would significantly restrict our ability to react to market changes," Healy countered.

Boeing's commercial airplane manufacturing operation, based in the Puget Sound area, has led a resurgence by the company over the past two years amid heavy orders for the much-awaited and increasingly delayed 787.

"The best way to ensure job stability -- which is what the IAM is talking about -- is to improve productivity, which will help us increase airplane sales," Healy said.

The union -- whose slogan for these negotiations is "It's our time this time!" -- has said it wants to get as much as it can from Boeing in this contract.

"If we can't make gains during the good times, when will we make any gains?" Kelliher said.

The union is putting together a counter-proposal to bring to Boeing on Wednesday, Kelliher said.

Representatives from Boeing and the union began round-the-clock negotiations on Thursday, Aug. 21, at a Seatac, Wash., hotel.

Boeing has said it hopes to present a final offer to the union by Friday, Aug. 29.

The union wants Boeing to pull its proposal eliminating retiree medical for future hires and rehires who have been gone longer than six years.

Also, the union wants higher wage increases. The machinists haven't had a raise since 2004, she said. The average Boeing machinist earns $27 an hour or about $56,000 a year, before overtime and incentives.

More in Aerospace