SPEEA, Boeing ‘making progress’ in talks

After a month of exchanging jabs, leaders for the Boeing Co. and the union representing the company’s engineers and technical workers had two days of “productive” contract talks this week.

“There’s still a lot to do,” Bill Dugovich, communications director for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, said Thursday. “We’re not there yet. But we’re making progress.”

The 22,765 Boeing technical workers and engineers represented by SPEEA design and test the company’s aircraft. Union members voted down Boeing’s first offer, 15,097 to 608, on Oct. 1 after a 10-day voting process.

Although Boeing and SPEEA officials returned to the table Oct. 2, meetings in recent weeks hadn’t drawn warm remarks from either side until Wednesday.

What was magical about Wednesday? That’s when Boeing reported $1 billion in third-quarter earnings — although the company also emphasized soaring pension costs.

“I think it was a combination of the very good earnings report and realizing our members were united in their effort to get a contract that reflects their contributions,” Dugovich said.

The company made some changes to its health care proposal to provide “the detail and security” that are consistent with the union’s existing contract, Boeing negotiators wrote in a message to employees. The two sides also tentatively agreed Wednesday on provisions for holiday pay and jury and witness duty for part-time employees.

Boeing’s initial contract offer included annual raises of between 2.5 and 3.5 percent. The company proposed higher contributions from employees for health care and wanted to offer new SPEEA members a 401(k) plan, rather than the defined pension that members have now.

On Thursday, Boeing and SPEEA both issued the same message to members and employees, calling the day’s talks “productive.”

Before the contract vote Oct. 1, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney told Reuters he thought the company and union would reach an agreement within “a few weeks.” In an email Thursday, Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel noted that the company “remains focused on reaching an agreement as soon as possible.”

The two sides decided to scrap a third negotiating session scheduled for Friday but will meet again next Wednesday.

SPEEA’s contract formally expired Oct. 6 but remains in effect. In late September, the union told Boeing that it would terminate the contract Nov. 25, a move that allows the union to strike thereafter. So far, however, SPEEA negotiators have not sought necessary strike authorization from members.

The union has struck Boeing twice: for a day in 1993 and for 40 days in 2000.

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

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