LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- Boeing Co. workers who assemble C-17 planes went on strike Tuesday, shutting down the production line for the jumbo cargo jets in a feud over medical and pension benefits.
Nearly all of the 1,700 unionized mechanics at Boeing's Long Beach plant heeded the strike call, but about 3,000 non-union workers continued in jobs ranging from engineering to supply and sales, Boeing spokeswoman Cindy Anderson said.
The Chicago-based company shut down the C-17 production line indefinitely.
Anderson said the strike so far had not affected C-17 operations, such as parts supply and manufacture, that employ thousands of people in 44 states.
Such suppliers have "a long lead time" and their operations haven't been disrupted yet, but "everybody's anxious to get the workers back to work," Anderson said.
The strike was called nearly a week after negotiations failed to bridge a gap between Boeing and negotiators for United Auto Workers Local 148 over medical and pension benefits.
"We're concerned about our age. We've given up our youth for Boeing," picket Jeff Bartlett told KTLA-TV.
"We're fed up," said Brian Sullivan, who has worked at the plant since 1985. "The medical issue is the main issue for us. The concessions are too much and the company expected us to take it lying down. We won't."
Workers rejected a proposed 46-month contract, and last-ditch discussions earlier this week failed to result in an agreement. No new talks were scheduled.
Boeing is Long Beach's largest private employer with about 5,000 workers. The local work force has assembled more than 200 C-17s bought by the U.S. military and other countries.
The massive four-engine workhorse has been used in Iraq, Afghanistan and humanitarian missions such as earthquake relief in Haiti.
In February, Boeing announced that it was reducing the number of planes assembled in Long Beach by one-third to delay the plant's planned closure in mid-2012. Officials said they want to keep the plant operating while the company seeks more C-17 contracts.
Boeing endured an eight-week strike in late 2008 that shut down commercial airplane production and was a factor in delays for its new 787 and a new version of its 747. That walkout was by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which covered some 27,000 Boeing employees in Washington state, Oregon, and Kansas.
Meanwhile, machinists at Boeing's St. Louis defense systems plant authorized a strike earlier this month if no new contract is reached. The current agreement expires next month. Boeing has said it expects negotiations to lead to a new contract.