WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Negotiators for the union representing engineers at the Boeing Co.'s Wichita defense plant agreed Thursday to a three-year contract, even though workers twice have rejected it.
When members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace rejected the company's "best and final offer" for a second time earlier this month, they gave their negotiators authority to accept the offer if they couldn't get a better one. In rejecting the offer, the engineers also had refused to authorize a strike.
The new contract goes into effect immediately, with the union not having to vote on it again.
The company's offer included a 3 percent raise pool in each year of the three-year contract. Each worker is guaranteed at least a 3 percent raise over the life of the contract, although the amount could vary individually.
The union wanted higher guaranteed wages and better health care plan options. It said it offered new hires reduced pension benefits.
Bob Brewer, SPEEA's Midwest director, said company negotiators interpreted the engineers' refusal to strike as a weakness, rather than as a message that while they were dissatisfied with the contract, they understood the economic situation.
"It was really a disappointing day," Brewer said. "We felt Boeing negotiators and management would take the talks today as an opportunity for them to adjust their offer."
But Boeing spokesman Jarrod Bartlett said he did not believe company interpreted the member's rejection of a strike in any way.
"We believe our offer was a fair offer in any economy and certainly in this economy," he said.
SPEEA represents 700 engineers at the Wichita plant. Negotiations began in November, and engineers continued to work even after the old contract expired on Dec. 5.
This year's contract negotiations came amid mounting job losses at Wichita's major aircraft manufacturers, including 800 layoffs announced in 2008 at the Boeing's Wichita plant.
Chicago-based Boeing has announced a companywide total of 10,000 layoffs amid weaker air traffic and pressure on military budgets.
Boeing Machinists, including those at the Wichita defense plant, went on a two-month strike in September, paralyzing the company's commercial aircraft factories. The strike ended with a new contract in early November.
Bombardier Aerospace, Cessna Aircraft Co. and Hawker Beechcraft Corp. have laid off thousands of workers in Wichita, citing canceled aircraft orders.