Boeing, engineers talking, not yet negotiating

Will the Boeing Co. and its engineering and technical workers union ink a labor contract early like the company’s Machinists did this week?

“Our focus is on getting a good contract,” said Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. “If we could get one quickly, that would be good for everyone.”

Boeing hasn’t approached SPEEA with a contract extension like it did with the Machinists union, he said Friday.

The company and its Machinists union struck a deal that extended the Machinists’ contract until September 2016, secured 737 MAX work in Renton and did away with a federal labor dispute. Machinists members voted to approve the contract Wednesday.

SPEEA’s contract with Boeing expires in October. While neither Boeing nor SPEEA said they are actively negotiating a new contract, they are talking on a regular basis.

“We’re always talking to the company,” Goforth said.

Those talks included a proposal made by Goforth earlier this year to enter binding arbitration rather than go through the typical contract negotiation process. Although Boeing “hated that idea,” Goforth said, it got the two sides talking about different ways to come up with a contract.

Boeing spokesman Tim Healy acknowledged regular communication between the company and SPEEA. “We talk regularly with SPEEA at all levels,” he said.

For SPEEA, a new contract, or a contract extension, would need to include at least the same level of pay, pension and benefits as negotiated in 2008, Goforth said.

“In 2008, the company was struggling,” Goforth said. Today, “the company is doing quite well. We’re seeing signs the global economy is getting better, is stabilizing.”

Three years ago, Boeing had just endured a 57-day strike by its Machinists when it began talks with SPEEA. The company also had delayed deliveries of its popular 787. By early 2009, Boeing began a series of worker layoffs in response to airlines pushing back jet deliveries or cancelling orders.

But airlines are ordering aircraft again in 2011. Boeing’s commercial airplanes division has added 12,666 workers since the beginning of the year. In Washington state, the company has 8,047 workers across its divisions, which include airplanes, shared services and engineering.

If Boeing and SPEEA wait until next fall to reach an agreement, a contract vote will come as Boeing is relying on SPEEA members to design the company’s new 737 MAX, oversee new versions of its popular 787 and consider the fate of its Everett-built 777. SPEEA represents roughly 20,000 Boeing workers in Washington state.

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