New Boeing proposals underwhelm union

With contract talks still contentious, Boeing Co. engineers and technical workers could be asked in the near future to give union negotiators the power to call a strike.

That prospect is “increasingly likely,” Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, said after the union received the bulk of a new Boeing offer during a negotiating session Tuesday.

Both sides are willing to continue talking and were to meet again Wednesday. But union leaders had nothing good to say about the company’s latest proposals. Boeing hasn’t outlined a complete new offer, though it could fill in some of the details Wednesday.

SPEEA represents 22,765 Puget Sound region engineers and technical workers at Boeing. Its members are responsible for designing and testing Boeing aircraft and troubleshooting problems on the factory floor.

Though SPEEA members likely will vote on strike authority by year’s end, they wouldn’t necessarily go on strike, and certainly not before January, the union has said.

It was clear Tuesday that Boeing and SPEEA leaders see the world very differently.

Boeing spoke of compromises the company has made since its initial offer in September. Company negotiators felt “really good” about Tuesday’s proposals, which included key economic issues like health care and wages, said Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman.

“We said all along both sides would have to move and we made significant movement” in the new proposal, Alder said. “The ball is in SPEEA’s court now.”

SPEEA representatives point to how poorly the new offer compares to the existing contract.

The new offer, Goforth said, includes “across-the-board pay and benefit cuts.” What he actually means is that the company’s offered raises aren’t as big as raises under the current contract.

Boeing is now offering raises of between 3 percent and 4.5 percent annually over four years. The first contract offer included annual increases of 2 percent to 3.5 percent. The existing contract included raises of 5 percent. SPEEA had asked for 7.5 percent.

SPEEA members overwhelmingly rejected Boeing’s first offer, on Oct. 1, by 96 percent. Since then, union leaders have encouraged engineers and technical workers to turn down voluntary overtime and to follow work procedures to the letter, a move that can slow jet deliveries. So far, however, the company hasn’t seen a slowdown, Alder said.

That could change when Boeing-employed SPEEA members who work as “authorized representatives” of the Federal Aviation Administration begin maxing out on mandatory overtime for the quarter. Those engineers and technical workers give final approval for jet deliveries and often log a lot of extra hours, Goforth said.

Boeing’s new offer, SPEEA says, still contains unacceptable elements, such as a 401(k) plan for new hires rather than the defined pension that existing SPEEA members receive. That 401(k) is worth 40 percent less than the pension, SPEEA negotiators said in a message to members. Leaders fear the company is trying to “drive wedges” between future and existing workers.

In a message to employees posted on the company website, Boeing leaders said their new proposal would reward SPEEA members for their contributions while allowing the area workforce to “remain competitive for future work.” Boeing officials frequently have noted the higher cost of engineering employees in the region.

The two also remain at odds over Boeing’s health care proposal, which the union said passes too much cost to members.

Goforth thinks the company purposely is holding off on a making full new proposal. “They’re afraid of what would happen if we send this to our members to vote,” Goforth said.

Boeing negotiators want to talk more, Alder said. During earlier talks, the company accused SPEEA of breaking off negotiations prematurely when it sent the first full offer straight to members for a vote.

“We just really want to get this done,” Alder said. “We’ve said all along, we don’t want a strike.”

Meanwhile, SPEEA has filed another unfair labor practice complaint against Boeing with the National Labor Relations Board. The union accused the company of threatening to discipline workers engaging in union activity. Complaints like this one could help the union lay the groundwork for a federally protected strike.

Boeing has abided by labor law throughout negotiations, said Alder, dismissing the labor complaints as “totally without merit.”

In Boeing’s website posting Tuesday, the company noted that the terms of the existing union contract, which expired Oct. 6, remain in place as the two sides continue to negotiate.

“Employees should continue to report for work as normal,” Boeing negotiators wrote.

For detailed information about Boeing’s proposal, visit www.speea.org or boeing.com/speea-negotiations.

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

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