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

Health-care consumers need to take the lead, so get smart

David Russian, CEO of Western Washington Medical Group, writes our third essay about fixing health care.

Robots on Wall Street: Slow-footed regulators lose ground

Watchdogs have to figure out how to check computers running lightening-fast algorithms.

More business, more competition for Everett kidney dialysis center

Nonprofit Puget Sound Kidney Centers sees large for-profit competitors enter state market.

Molina Medical holds fall carnival for families in Everett

Molina Medical is hosting a free event for families in the Everett… Continue reading

Leadership Snohomish County celebrates 20 years of service

Leadership Snohomish County is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The organization was launched… Continue reading

Snohomish, Monroe manufacturers honored for innovation, excellence

Two Snohomish County companies have been honored with Manufacturing Excellence awards at… Continue reading

Remodeled home tours planned this weekend

This weekend, Edmonds-based Chermak Construction will participate in the 2017 Remodeled Homes… Continue reading

Barron Heating to celebrate anniversary at Marysville showroom

Barron Heating and Air Conditioning is celebrating its 45th anniversary from 10… Continue reading

US budget deficit hits $666B, an $80B spike for the year

The deficit issue has largely fallen in prominence in Washington in recent years.

Most Read