After months of saying it was their time to get what they wanted from Boeing in a new contract, 87 percent of Machinists union members on Wednesday voted to strike to show the company they mean it. But, working through the governor's office, a federal mediator asked for more time to stave off a work stoppage.
"I know that we all had hoped that Boeing and the (union) could have reached a contract agreement acceptable to both parties," Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a prepared statement. "From recent conversations with management and labor representatives I know that both sides worked hard to find a resolution so they can continue to manufacture the best airplanes in the world. That's why I am pleased that the parties have chosen to return to the table so that a speedy resolution can be found that is good for Boeing and the (union)."
Boeing lead negotiator Doug Kight said the company believed it had offered employees the best package of pay and benefits in the aerospace industry. "We are disappointed with the vote on the contract offer," he said in a statement.
"The Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service has asked both parties to meet at a neutral location this week to explore whether an agreement can be reached," he added. "Boeing has agreed to participate in this process in an effort to seek a resolution that is in the best interest of employees, our customers and our company."
Machinists who gathered in the union's Seattle hall reacted angrily to their leaders' pleas for two more days of talks.
Jason Redrup, who works in Everett, was still digesting late Wednesday the decision by union leaders to go back to the bargaining table for another 48 hours.
"I'm not happy with their decision," Redrup said. "But I understood their reasoning."
Still, he said, "I've always believed when your contract expires, you put down your tools."
Connie Kelliher, spokeswoman for the local International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said the issues remain the same. "If nothing changes, the strike is on," she added.
The union, which represents 24,000 members in the Puget Sound region, received more than the two-thirds majority needed to authorize a strike with 87 percent voting in favor of walking out. About 80 percent of the Machinists, in a separate ballot, voted to reject Boeing's contract offer, which included a signing bonus of $2,500, an 11 percent raise over three years and an additional lump sum payment of at least $2,500 in the first year.
Without the requested delay, the Machinists would have started to strike at 12:01 a.m. today.
The company took a different approach to negotiations this year, starting contract talks with the Machinists in early May but calling off negotiations five days before the vote. Boeing's tactics rubbed Machinists' leaders the wrong way, causing the union to file an unfair labor practice complaint against the company last week. The union has alleged that Boeing tried to negotiate directly with members rather than through labor officials. Boeing has denied the claim.
A labor strike would come at a difficult time for Boeing as it tries to meet commitments on a record backlog of unfilled jet orders. Analysts have estimated that a strike could cost Boeing as much as $100 million each day in late fees or missed jet payments, although Boeing may be protected against fees during a strike. A prolonged strike, however, could disrupt even further the first flight and delivery of Boeing's already delayed 787 Dreamliner.
Union members said Boeing fell short in its three-year contract offer in the areas of health insurance, wages and job security. The Machinists have said since negotiations began that this year they had the leverage to make gains, as opposed to the past two contracts when the union thought it lost ground.
Should Boeing fail to meet the union's demands, Everett Machinist Tim Gurno said he's prepared for a strike.
"It's not just about the money," said Gurno, who works on Boeing's 767 line. "It's about job security, it's about medical. I'd like to see a cost of living adjustment for retirees."
Boeing's proposed minimum pay rates are problematic for Machinists such as Gurno, who has been with the company less than a year. The 22-year-old is in "progression steps" -- or the points between the minimum and the maximum of a pay grade. As a result, Gurno said, he and others like him won't be paid much more than a new worker.
"It's like the last year that I have worked for Boeing … would be completely meaningless," Gurno said.
Boeing withdrew several controversial proposals from its final contract offer, including a plan to eliminate both retiree medical insurance and traditional pension plans for new Machinists. Given Boeing's success over the past three years, Machinists' leaders said that the company should never have threatened any "takeways" in the first place. Instead, the Machinists want job security assurances, in light of the extensive outsourcing Boeing did with its 787 Dreamliner. Union members said the new jet would be on time, had Boeing allowed them to build it.
The union last staged a strike, for 28 days, against Boeing in 2005. But there's no way to tell yet how long this strike will be.
Machinist Andy Mason, who watched the ballots being counted with his wife, Vicki, works on the 767 line in Everett. He has been a Boeing employee since 1979. This will be his fourth strike.
Like Gurno, Mason is prepared for the strike. "Even though I'm retiring in a couple years, I've got to look out for my brothers and sisters who are just starting," he said.
Reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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