Boeing Machinists dig in for long strike

EVERETT — Machinists made walking the picket line a family affair on Saturday, the first day of a labor strike against the Boeing Co.

“The whole contract just stinks,” said Mark Galanti, who brought his sons to picket across from Boeing’s offices on Seaway Boulevard. “They didn’t really want to bargain with us.”

Boeing and its Machinists union called off contract talks Friday afternoon, saying they remained too far apart to avoid a work stoppage. At 12:01 Saturday morning, more than 24,000 union members in the region walked off the job until a new three-year labor deal can be signed. Production of Boeing’s commercial jets came to a halt.

Although leaders for both Boeing and the union maintained they are ready to talk, neither party budged on Saturday. No negotiations are scheduled, leading many to believe the strike could last a long time.

Galanti is banking on a long strike.

The 777 worker plans to head to the Philippines this week on vacation. As far apart as the union and Boeing stand on issues like cost-of-living adjustments, health insurance and job security guarantees, Galanti estimates the strike will last a month to six weeks.

Connie Kelliher, local spokeswoman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, was visiting with striking union members in Frederickson on Saturday afternoon.

“The ball really is in Boeing’s court,” Kelliher said. “They know what the issues are.”

As the company prepared for last-minute talks with the Machinists on Wednesday night, Boeing’s Doug Kight, lead negotiator, had suggested the union needed to boil down its demands to a “few critical issues.” The controversial contract extension that was granted Wednesday night garnered little to no progress.

Union members such as Galanti voted to reject Boeing’s contract offer and 87 percent of the members voted in favor of a strike. Several Machinists in Everett didn’t go to work Thursday or Friday, despite the contract extension. And those that did were angry and weren’t productive, Galanti said.

The Galantis were joined on the picket line by Dave and Carol Brister. The couple isn’t as prepared as they would have like to be for a lengthy strike. Although he’s worked for Boeing for 11 years, Dave Brister was laid off for three years, from 2002 to 2005, during an industry downturn as a result of terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Carol Brister has worked for Boeing for 18 months.

“What they’ve done in the last few contracts is take a lot away,” Carol Brister said.

Machinists went on strike for 28 days against Boeing during their last contract negotiations in 2005 to keep medical benefits for retirees and pensions for new Machinists. Those same two topics resurfaced early in negotiations this time, but Boeing dropped both proposals as well as its request to divide out Machinists in Wichita.

Scott Carson, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, mentioned the concessions in a message to employees Wednesday night. He also highlighted the company’s “outstanding” offer: an 11 percent general wage increase over three years, a $2,500 signing bonus, an increase in pension to $80 monthly for each year of service.

“As we’ve said before, no one benefits from a strike,” Carson wrote.

The Bristers realize they won’t benefit financially in the short term by the strike but say they’ve got to keep in mind the long-term impact of signing the contract as is. Carol Brister pointed to things the Machinists would lose, including survivor benefits on pension plans and satisfactory wage increases for members in between minimum and maximum rates in their pay grade.

“A lot of people like us saw through the carrot — the bonuses — and realized we were going to lose a lot more in the end,” she said.

Reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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