Engineers union at Boeing prepping for strike

SEATTLE The head of Boeing’s engineering union says there’s a “very high chance” a strike could come as soon as February.

The Society of Engineering Employees in Aerospace is working on detailed preparations for a strike, including budgeting for a 60-day stoppage, Ray Goforth, the union’s executive director, told The Seattle Times.

Federal mediators suspended talks last week as part of a “cooling-off period” over the holidays.

Boeing’s initial offer was rejected by the union’s 23,000 members, who are mostly in the Puget Sound region with small pockets in Oregon, Utah and California. Issues include pay and Boeing’s desire to replace the pension with a 401(k) plan for new hires.

Boeing doesn’t want a strike, spokesman Doug Alder said.

“This rhetoric is not doing anybody any good,” he said.

Goforth said the union could pay for a strike of much longer than 60 days if necessary, and the union last week trained 150 “picket captains” who will be responsible for scheduling shifts on picket lines at Boeing’s factories around the region.

And he said his team has begun to work on details of strike logistics, such as whether the union needs supplemental liability insurance for van drivers or pickets at burn barrels.

Rick Oglesby, a mediator with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service who participated in the talks this week, said there will be no substantive mediation during the break, which is scheduled to last into January.

“It’s a period of time for each side to consider where they are at,” said Oglesby.

The union expects to call for a strike vote “very soon in January,” Goforth said.

Assuming union members provide that authorization, another period of negotiation would follow, with an expectation that Boeing might improve its latest offer.

Boeing has offered raises of 3.5 to 4.5 percent each year for four years. SPEEA wants 6 percent each year for three years.

The union has also objected to Boeing’s attempt to increase overall employee health-care contributions, while offering one zero-premium plan. That would hike costs by 12 percent, the union insists.

The company also wants to replace the pension for new hires with a 401(K) plan, which the union called unacceptable.

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Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com

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