By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
How close are the Boeing Co. and the union representing engineers and technical workers to reaching a new contract?
Depends on whom you ask.
“If you look at the data — not the rhetoric — we’re really not that far apart,” said Mike Delaney, vice president of engineering for Boeing Commercial Airplanes division, in an interview Monday.
That’s not the sentiment of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.
“Boeing’s message to our members indicates the company is still playing a hard line,” said Bill Dugovich, SPEEA communications director.
The company and union were to resume negotiations at 1 p.m. today. It’s their first meeting since Dec. 5, when a federal mediator suggested the two sides needed a cooling-off period.
The company and union began discussions back in April on a new contract for 22,950 engineers and technical workers — about half of whom work in Everett — responsible for designing and testing Boeing aircraft. SPEEA members rejected Boeing’s first offer in October. Contract talks and rhetoric spiraled down from there, with Boeing in late November requesting the presence of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
SPEEA has planned a “day of action” today, calling on members to show support for union negotiators by marching at Boeing sites around the Puget Sound region.
Union leaders also are doing their best to prepare members for a potential strike, which they say could happen as early as next month. SPEEA has staged only one significant strike in its history, a 40-day work stoppage in 2000.
Tom McCarty, president of SPEEA, told members in a video message that he expects Boeing will make an offer “within a few days” of the resumption of talks.
Throughout negotiations, Boeing has stressed a need for a deal that will enable the company to remain competitive. SPEEA has pointed to the bonuses paid to Boeing officials and increased dividends paid to shareholders, as well as the company’s soaring profits, as reasons the company should reward union members, too.
“The company is doing extremely well but isn’t willing to reward the engineers and technical workers who helped create Boeing’s success,” SPEEA’s Dugovich said.
However, Delaney says, SPEEA members already reap the benefits of Boeing’s success through programs such as the company’s employee 401(k) match and employee incentive program, which pays out based on Boeing performance each year. Early last year, Boeing paid commercial airplanes employees who are in the program an average of 15 to 16 extra days of pay as part of the incentive plan.
As for salary and benefits, Boeing has a market-based approach, Delaney said.
The company’s latest offer, in terms of salary, included annual wage-pool increases of between 3 percent and 4.5 percent. That’s not far, Delaney said, from the 5 percent increases in SPEEA’s existing contract, which union leaders previously said they’d take.
The largest rift between Boeing and SPEEA is between expectations for pensions.
Boeing wants to step toward cutting growing pension costs. Under its proposal, new engineers and technical workers would be enrolled in a 401(k) retirement plan. The switch doesn’t affect existing employees who now get a traditional pension, Delaney said.
SPEEA disagrees. In the long term, the union believes, Boeing would be creating a two-tier system, which years from now would pit members with the pension against those without.
The union has said it’s willing to discuss changing all of the members from a defined pension to another form of a retirement plan so long as the new plan doesn’t cut members’ retirement compensation. SPEEA proposed forming a committee with Boeing to look into the matter.
But to Delaney, that’s just punting the problem three or four years down the road.
“They’ve in fact offered us nothing,” he said.
Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; email@example.com.