updated 10/8/2008 11:50:04 PM ET 2008-10-09T03:50:04

The Boeing Co. and its striking machinists union have agreed to return to the bargaining table, both sides said Wednesday night.

A federal mediator will help hammer out details of the resumed negotiations. The machinists union has been on strike in a contract dispute since Sept. 6.

"We've been keeping the lines of communication open since the strike, and we've agreed to pursue additional talks through a federal mediator," company spokesman Tim Healy said. "We're interested in exploring whether there's a path forward to resolve the strike."

The International Association of Machinists, which represents about 27,000 workers in Washington, Oregon and Kansas, walked out after rejecting a contract offer over concerns about job security, pay, health care and retirement benefits.

The electricians, mechanics, painters and other hourly workers represented by the union assemble Boeing commercial jets.

Costly dispute
On Monday, an analyst said the strike is expected to cost Boeing about 21 aircraft deliveries and up to 15 cents per share in earnings for every two weeks it continues.

"We hope this meeting marks a major step forward," the union said in a statement to its members. It urged them to "stay strong on the picket lines. That's how we're going to secure a contract that will settle this strike."

The agreement to resume talks followed a meeting between lead negotiators for Boeing and the machinists, the statement said.

Even before the walkout, Boeing was scrambling to meet a revised schedule for test flights of its new 787 jetliner, to begin late this year. That timetable has now become virtually impossible to meet.

Healy emphasized that "any agreement must allow us to remain competitive and provide the flexibility to manage our business."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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