Boeing-SPEEA talks resuming, and there’s much to do

A quick resolution of the contract talks between the Boeing Co. and the union representing engineers and technical workers could be tough to come by, even as negotiators resume discussions Wednesday.

“Certainly from where the company was with their offer … there’s an awful lot of work to do,” said Bill Dugovich, communications director for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.

The union, which represents 22,765 Boeing engineers and technical workers in the Puget Sound region, voted down Boeing’s first offer on Oct. 1 with 96 percent of voting SPEEA members rejecting the proposal. Sticking points in the company’s first offer included health care costs, retirement benefits and wages.

Leaders for Boeing and SPEEA met briefly last week following the union’s vote. But that meeting only lasted 20 minutes. SPEEA’s Dugovich expects the talks to be more “substantive” than the discussion Oct. 2.

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder offered little comment on Wednesday’s meeting, saying the company would see how negotiations went this week. After the two sides met Oct. 2, Boeing leaders said in a message to members that they are committed to understanding SPEEA’s priorities.

“We also acknowledged that not every remaining aspect of our first proposal is a must-have, but recognize that movement on the part of both parties will be necessary to reach an agreement,” Boeing negotiators wrote.

From the union’s perspective, the starting point for negotiations is the existing contract, not the offer that members already rejected, Dugovich said.

In the days since Boeing and SPEEA last met, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against Boeing. SPEEA alleges the company interfered with union rallies by video recording events and by confiscating photos taken by members of the gatherings. Boeing declined to comment on the charges.

The apparent gulf between Boeing and SPEEA gave analyst Scott Hamilton, with Leeham Co., reason to think that the resumed negotiations won’t be easy.

“I think it will go down to the wire,” Hamilton said in an interview.

In late September, SPEEA filed notice to terminate its contract with Boeing on Nov. 25. The move means the union couldn’t strike before Nov. 26, and the company can’t lock workers out until then.

On Tuesday, Dugovich said the union doesn’t view Nov. 25 as a hard-and-fast deadline. As for talks on Wednesday, “we’re hopeful for productive discussions.”

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

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