Boeing seeks federal mediation in SPEEA contract talks

The Boeing Co. has asked for a federal mediator to meet with the company and the union representing its engineers and technical workers.

Boeing is seeking mediation due to the “significant” differences that remain between the jet maker and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, the company said Thursday in a message to employees.

“We hope the expertise of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service can help move the two sides toward a resolution,” Boeing negotiators wrote in a message.

SPEEA represents 22,765 Puget Sound area engineers and technical workers, who are responsible for designing, testing and signing off on deliveries of Boeing aircraft.

The two sides first began talking informally about a new contract nearly 18 months ago. Formal negotiations started this summer. Union members strongly rejected Boeing’s initial contract offer Oct. 1.

SPEEA negotiators are “disappointed the company did not listen to members during the overwhelming rejection of the contract offer,” they said in message to members Thursday.

Since Oct. 1, Boeing and SPEEA have remained far apart on key contract issues including wages, pension and health care costs.

“There are significant gaps in many areas,” Bill Dugovich, SPEEA’s communications director, said of negotiations on Wednesday.

The union’s wage proposal of 6 percent annual raises over three years “would move the salaries of our employees above the Puget Sound market,” Boeing said on Thursday.

Throughout formal negotiations, Boeing has emphasized a need to stay competitive in the Puget Sound region. The company noted Thursday that its compensation package “already leads the market.”

Union leaders often have pointed to the company’s soaring profits, increased dividends and bonuses to executives and said Boeing’s proposal includes “cuts” to wages and benefits.

“These below-inflation raise pools and medical plan takeaways mean techs will lose money during the life of the contract,” Joel Funfar, a SPEEA negotiator for technical workers, said in a statement.

SPEEA leaders suggested recently that they could seek the OK from members to call a strike by year’s end, though the union would not go on strike until the beginning of 2013. The union has staged only one significant strike in its history: a 40-day work stoppage in 2000.

This is a breaking news story; please check back for updates.

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