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Union Pessimistic About Boeing Offer

August 27, 1999

SEATTLE (AP) _ Union officials were pessimistic Friday about avoiding a strike as they awaited The Boeing Co.’s final offer on a new contract covering 44,000 Machinists.

The world’s largest aerospace company gave the union a full proposal around noon Friday, but Tim Flynn, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said it was not the final offer.

``That’s what we’ll be negotiating from this afternoon,″ he said, refusing to release any details. ``A cursory look at it suggests there’s quite a distance to go, but we’ll see what happens.″

Union officials say it seems likely workers will strike Boeing next week, with both sides acknowledging a lack of consensus on major issues.

Mark Blondin, a full-time union representative at Boeing’s Everett, Wash., plant who spent 17 years as a toolmaker and mechanic, said union members won’t compromise on their most important issues: job security, health care, pensions and keeping a traditional work week.

``Each one of those is a walk issue. All bets are off if they’re not addressed,″ Blondin said. ``I really firmly believe they’ll walk.″

But company officials remained optimistic that an acceptable settlement could be reached during the final hours.

``We’ve had two objectives since day one of this entire negotiation process: First and foremost, to do what was right for the employees and, secondly, to do what’s right for the company. We feel that the proposal we will put on the table later today will address all of the employees’ concerns,″ said Boeing spokesman Peter Conte.

The union is seeking to preserve jobs, improve medical benefits and increase pensions. The company wants to cut costs through subcontracting, paying less for health benefits and adopting a flexible work week.

The average machinist at Boeing earns $40,000 a year, not counting benefits or overtime.

The current 44-month contract covers 31,000 workers in Washington state, 1,400 in Portland, Ore., and 11,600 in Wichita, Kan. Boeing employs about 210,000 worldwide.

The company is expected to make its final offer to the union on Friday. Over the weekend, union members will get copies of the offer and be able to meet with union officials for briefings and question-and-answer sessions.

Union members will vote Wednesday on whether to accept or reject the offer as well as whether to authorize a strike. The current contract expires at midnight Wednesday, and a strike could begin immediately if two-thirds of the Machinists vote to authorize it.

In July, the Machinists in Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Wichita, Kan., voted informally to support a strike if negotiations failed. They have gone on strike in two of the past three contract talks, most recently for 69 days in 1995.

Union members said Friday they were ready for a strike, no matter how long it takes.

Jim Roberts, a material processor and shop steward at Boeing’s Renton, Wash., plant, said he had enough money set aside so he wouldn’t start to feel a pinch from the strike for at least four months. Most of his co-workers were similarly well situated, he said.

Roberts also said he expected well over the required two-thirds of union members to authorize a strike and cited last month’s vote, in which 98 percent of the 19,000 Machinists from those three cities said they would support a strike.

``I don’t think the numbers going to fall short of that,″ he said. ``After all, you have people here who have 10 or 15 years here and they’ve gone through and bled for the younger workers to have these benefits when they get hired in. When Boeing goes to take away those benefits, it’s a slap in the face for those workers who’ve been here.″

Roberts, who has worked at Boeing for nearly two years, and Cliff Standfill, a a tool maker at Renton who has worked for Boeing for 20 years, agreed that job security was the most important issue for them.

``It’s not a money issue, it never has been,″ Standfill said.

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