The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace reached out to federal mediators Wednesday to request a new round of contract talks with Boeing. The move came a day after technical workers voted down the company's contract by a margin of 3,203 to 2,868. The technical workers also gave the OK for SPEEA negotiators to call a strike, if necessary.
For the moment, though, union leaders are focused on resuming negotiations with Boeing rather than striking, Bill Dugovich, SPEEA's communications director, said Wednesday. Talks aren't likely to be scheduled until next week.
The 15,500 Boeing engineers also represented by SPEEA voted Tuesday to accept their contract by a margin of 6,483 to 5,514. SPEEA negotiates for both groups at the same time, though engineers and technical workers have separate contracts.
The threat of a strike by the union has a "different impact" now that the engineers wouldn't be eligible to participate, Dugovich said. Still, a work stoppage by technical workers would affect Boeing's operations, he said.
"Technical workers have very significant roles interfacing between engineers and the shop floor," he said. "A strike would certainly slow production for Boeing."
SPEEA said Wednesday it plans to conduct a telephone survey of technical workers to understand member priorities as union officials gear up to resume talks.
Boeing already is under pressure to solve battery troubles that have grounded the 787 Dreamliner. On Wednesday, sources told The Associated Press that Ray Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, will present potential solutions Friday to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Late Tuesday, Boeing said it was "deeply disappointed" SPEEA's technical workers rejected the contract. Conner noted the importance of moving new SPEEA members to a 401(k) retirement plan to stay competitive. The switch away from a defined pension, which SPEEA says has more value for members, had been a major sticking point in negotiations.
Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said Wednesday that the company's position on the pension hasn't changed. Still, he said, the company, which is legally obligated to return to negotiation, is optimistic about reaching an agreement with the technical workers.
Alder declined to comment on how a strike by the technical workers would affect Boeing operations. However, he said, the company has contingency plans.
In the case of a strike, SPEEA's Dugovich indicated that while engineers can't strike, they could keep pressure on the company to yield to the technical workers' demands.
"The company has to deal with the fact that a significant number of the workforce is not happy," he said.
Labor unrest in Washington's aerospace industry was on the mind of Gov. Jay Inslee, who voiced concern late Tuesday about the split SPEEA vote. The governor said he has reached out to both parties to encourage them to resume negotiations.
"We cannot overstate the importance of the aerospace industry to the economy of Washington," Inslee said. "There are more than 131,000 employees in aerospace-related companies working across the state, the vast majority of which are directly reliant on the Boeing Co."
Herald writer Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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