Boeing hopes to avoid strike with second union

Boeing Labor
Boeing and an engineers union have agreed on about half the contract, "the less controversial pieces," says Doug Kight, vice president for human resources at Boeing Commercial Airplanes and the company's chief negotiator in both sets of talks.Ted S. Warren / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Boeing Co.’s contract talks with a second union — its engineers — move into high gear Tuesday, even as the company is negotiating to end its Machinists union strike. That 52-day walkout has closed Boeing’s commercial jet factories, lowered its profits and delayed airplane deliveries.

Boeing hopes to avoid a second strike, this one by its white-collar union, which represents 21,000 scientists, engineers, manual writers, technicians and other hourly workers.

The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace includes workers without whom Boeing could not deliver airplanes because they certify the planes’ airworthiness. The union surprised the business and labor world in 2000 with a 40-day walkout.

SPEEA’s two current contracts expire Dec. 1. One covers about up to about 14,200 scientists, engineers and other professionals with average salaries of $82,666 and the other covers nearly 6,700 manual writers, technicians and other hourly workers paid an average of $68,157. About 550 are in Utah, California and Oregon and the rest are in the Seattle area.

Committees from Boeing and SPEEA have been meeting since March to discuss specific issues, and an agreement has been reached on about half of the contract, “the less controversial pieces,” said Doug Kight, vice president for human resources at Boeing Commercial Airplanes and the company’s chief negotiator in both sets of talks.

The full negotiating teams now move into a hotel to try to come to terms that can be submitted for union ratification in mid-November.

Meanwhile, revived talks between Boeing and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers continued under federal mediation for a fifth day Monday in Washington, D.C. without any word of progress. The strike began Sept. 6.

Kight said he would be with the Machinists as long as those sessions continued but added that bargaining with SPEEA would not hinge on his presence.

Last week, the Chicago-based company reported a 38-percent drop in third-quarter profit, resulting in net income of $695 million, or 96 cents per share. The results included a 60-cents-per-share erosion in earnings as the strike and a shortage of key parts lowered Boeing’s airplane deliveries.

Key issues for SPEEA include the same ones for the Machinists union — job security and outsourcing, pay, retirement benefits and health coverage — plus jurisdictional issues.

Voting is by mail. If either unit rejects a contract and approves strike authorization, union leaders can call a walkout by that unit after the contracts expire Dec. 1.

“We have a work force that is frustrated, concerned, they feel ignored. They feel that their expertise has been marginalized,” said Ray Goforth, the engineering union’s executive director.

Kight said health and pension issues “will be challenging, for sure,” as well as “our use of non-Boeing labor.”

In the past, he said Machinists union strike settlement terms on retirement and medical care were largely transferred over to the SPEEA contracts.

Battles over SPEEA representation for 64 employees in Utah and as many as 200 in California “are going to play an inordinate role in these negotiations,” Goforth said, saying that Boeing is trying to weaken the union by claiming that, especially in California, workers in civilian and military operations should be covered by different contracts.

“It could be a strike issue,” he said.

The white-collar union struck for 40 days in 2000 in a walkout that saw the union win gains in pay, retirement benefits and medical care over the company’s last pre-strike offer.

A strike by SPEEA would make six by the two unions against Boeing in two decades, following walkout by the Machinists of 48 days in 1989, 69 days in 1995, 28 days in 2005 and the current walkout.

In a related development, members of another IAM unit voted Sunday to ratify a 3½-year contract covering more than 500 Boeing Integrated Defense System workers who handle parts production and distribution, aircraft testing and research and development in Huntington Beach, Torrance and Edwards Air Force Base, all in Southern California.

The pact, which runs through April 28, 2012, includes a $2,500 signing bonus and pay increases totaling 6 percent, maintains a cost-of-living adjustment formula and boosts monthly retirement benefits to $75 per year of service.

Boeing’s last three-year offer to commercial airplane production workers who were paid about the same rates as the Southern California employees before the strike included bonuses averaging $6,400, raises averaging 11 percent and similar COLA provisions and a boost in retirement benefits to $80 per year of service.