Strike Possible as Production Workers Vote on Contract Proposal
SEATTLE (AP) _ Members of Boeing’s largest union, many of them angry at the prospect of higher health insurance costs, vote today on whether to strike for a second time within six years.
Leaders of the Machinists union say Boeing’s final offer is an insult and that their members are ready to walk.
The three-year offer affects about 34,000 Boeing workers represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The current contract expires at midnight tonight.
Union members vote this evening. The contract needs a simple majority to pass; a separate strike vote requires a two-thirds majority. If there aren’t enough votes to call a strike, then the offer becomes effective even if it is voted down, union officials said.
``Absolutely, without a doubt, people are upset. They’re not just upset, they’re really ticked,″ said June Moen, a union steward who works as an expediter at Boeing’s commercial delivery center at Boeing Field in Seattle.
``I think we’re gonna strike,″ said David Eagle, president of Local 834 of the Machinists union in Wichita.
Boeing spokesman Russ Young said the offer was attractive in an era of declining aerospace jobs. He said Boeing was taking ``appropriate measures″ in the event of a walkout.
``We would try to continue operations as best we can using supervisors and nonstriking employees,″ Young said.
Boeing says it doesn’t want a strike, but some industry analysts say it has more to gain than to lose from a walkout.
Boeing would suffer in the short term from slowed jet deliveries, but analysts say it would benefit far more in the long run from labor cost reductions.
Production rates are relatively low at the moment, they note. The company plans to build 235 planes this year, down from 446 just three years ago.
Most of Boeing’s contracts with airlines include strike clauses, which give the company an excuse to push back delivery dates _ something cash-strapped airlines might even welcome, analysts said.
``They can go some time before a strike starts to bite,″ said Cai Von Rumohr, and analyst with Bowen & Co. in Boston.
The Machinists last struck Boeing for 48 days in 1989. Then, a major issue was mandatory overtime _ production workers were putting in long hours as Boeing rushed to cope with record aircraft orders.
Machinists want Boeing to halt subcontracting-out of work without the union’s approval, and stronger assurances that subcontracting will not displace workers. Boeing has proposed meeting twice a year with the union to talk about subcontracting.
The Machinists also don’t like a company proposal to have employees, for the first time, help pay premiums for health insurance.
The company is offering a choice of five health insurance plans. The most expensive would cost individual employees $15 a month and families $45, with annual deductibles doubling to $150 for individuals and $450 for families. One plan requires no monthly payments, but an employee would pay $10 for each doctor visit.
Boeing also wants a yearly dental plan deductible of $100 for individuals and $300 for families.
For wages, Boeing has offered a one-time, lump-sum payment of 5 percent of annual pay in 1995, another 3 percent cash payment in 1996, and a 3 percent general wage increase in 1997. The union wants wage increases and lump-sum payments in all three years, but has not specified amounts.
The company said pay for production workers now averages $20.37 an hour, and would average $22.16 at the end of the contract it has offered, counting cost-of-living increases and the 1997 wage boost. The average worker also would receive more than $3,400 in lump-sum payments, it said.
In addition, Boeing has offered to increase life insurance, retirement benefits and disability pay, ease rules on holiday pay and set up a pilot program for child care.