Boeing seeks federal mediation in SPEEA talks

A federal mediator has been asked to wade into the mud- slinging between the Boeing Co. and the union representing engineers and technical workers after contract talks broke down Thursday.

Leaders of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace expressed bewilderment after company officials broke off talks and requested mediation. The move came after months of negotiations and an Oct. 1 rejection by SPEEA members of Boeing’s first contract offer.

“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 to employees.

A spokesman for the federal service couldn’t comment on the matter Thursday. However, both sides said they had spoken with the mediation service.

In separate interviews, the company and union accused one another of being inflexible. Both concede, however, that federal mediation in contract negotiations is fairly common. A mediator sat in on talks between SPEEA and Boeing in 2008.

The union doesn’t object to mediation but had been prepared to continue negotiating without third-party help, said Ray Goforth, SPEEA’s executive director.

During the Thursday meeting, Boeing rejected a SPEEA counterproposal on pensions and wages, which included 6 percent annual raises over three years, Goforth said.

The biggest obstacle in negotiations has been the “absurd expectations” of Boeing officials on compensation and benefits, Goforth said.

In a message to employees, Boeing negotiators said that SPEEA’s latest proposal would push compensation for its 22,765 Puget Sound area engineers and technical workers “above market” for the region. Throughout 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.”

The company’s latest offer was 3 percent to 4.5 percent annual wage-pool increases over four years, an improvement over the 2 percent to 3.5 percent in Boeing’s first proposal.

Frustration over the talks has been building and was apparent again in Thursday’s meeting, said Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman. That led the company to request mediation. “We feel like this is our next best option,” Alder said.

It’s unclear if mediation will avert a strike by the engineers and technical workers who design, test and sign off on deliveries of Boeing jets.

Union officials previously indicated that they could ask members for the authority to call a strike by year’s end. But Goforth suggested Thursday that won’t likely happen until the new year. He wasn’t certain how mediation would influence a strike-authorization vote.

SPEEA has staged only one significant strike in its history: a 40-day work stoppage in 2000. A strike in 2013 would come as Boeing increases aircraft production and works on several design projects, such as the 767-based Air Force aerial-refueling tanker, the revamped 737 MAX and a larger version of the popular 787.

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

More in Herald Business Journal

An Alaska Airlines Embraer 175. The carrier plans to use this model on routes to and from Paine Field in Everett. (Alaska Airlines)
Alaska Airlines hopes to be a decent neighbor in Everett

Diana Birkett Rakow shared aspects of the company’s philosophy as keynote at an Economic Alliance event.

Aerospace supplier MTorres is taking off in Everett

Spanish company has received nearly $40 million in new projects since opening near Boeing in Everett.

US manufacturers have produced 150 million guns since 1986

The vast majority of all U.S.-produced firearms were sold domestically.

Safe saves Everett Office Furniture’s future after fire

The business was able to reopen because vital paperwork was preserved.

Investor Warren Buffett says good deals are tough to find

Succeeding in the market requires the discipline to act sensibly when markets do crazy things.

More than 60 Boeing 737s per month: Can suppliers keep up?

There was lots of talk this week about the prudence and pressures of soaring production rates.

Developer proposes an 18-story building in Lynnwood

It would be the second-tallest in the county and include apartments with retail space.

Snohomish County business licenses

PLEASE NOTE: Business license information is obtained monthly from the Washington Secretary… Continue reading

New Everett mayor speaks out about business in city, region

Q&A: Cassie Franklin on what can be done to get Boeing to build the 797 here and attract new industries.

Most Read