SPEEA rejects Boeing’s offer by 96 percent

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

Boeing Co. and union representatives will return to negotiations Tuesday after engineers and technical workers overwhelmingly rejected the company’s contract offer during a 10-day voting period that ended Monday at 5 p.m.

The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace voted down Boeing’s contract, with engineers rejecting it 9,770-454 and technical workers turning it down 5,327-154. About 72 percent of eligible SPEEA members voted, the union announced late Monday night. Union negotiators had urged SPEEA’s 22,765 engineers and technical workers in the Puget Sound region, about half of whom work in Everett, to decline Boeing’s first offer.

“Until now, meaningful discussions have eluded us because the Boeing negotiating team was convinced they understood the members better than the SPEEA negotiating team,” Ray Goforth, executive director of SPEEA, said in a statement. “With this question resolved, our expectation is that everyone can focus upon getting a mutually acceptable agreement.”

The union’s vote does not trigger a strike at Boeing. SPEEA did not even ask members to give negotiators the OK to call a strike.

In a message to SPEEA members, Boeing negotiators said they are focused on resuming contract talks Tuesday.

“As was true when we made our initial proposal – we are committed to continuing discussions, answering questions and considering any proposals or counterproposals from your negotiations team,” the company said.

Although SPEEA’s contract expires Oct. 6, it remains in place until Nov. 25, Boeing said in its statement. SPEEA requested the contracts for both technical workers and engineers end then, the company said. The union cannot stage a strike until after Nov. 25, Boeing said.

Neither Boeing nor SPEEA were available for immediate comment about the Nov. 25 deadline.

Boeing’s first contract offer included wage increases of between 2.5 and 3.5 percent annually and an increase in pension from $83 to $91 per month for each year of service for existing SPEEA members. The company also proposed to switch new workers to a 401(k) retirement plan, rather than the defined pension, and called for an increase in members’ contributions to their health-care costs.

SPEEA’s Goforth noted that the pay raises proposed by Boeing would be the lowest given to engineers and technical workers since 1975. Union officials also are opposed to a 401k plan that they say would result in a lower retirement benefit to future workers.

“This offer is so terrible it’s important for our members to see it and let Boeing know directly what they think,” Goforth told members in a Sept. 18 message urging them to reject Boeing’s offer.

Boeing negotiators, including Mike Delaney, vice president of engineering for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, have emphasized the need to reach an agreement that’s “market-leading” for employees but doesn’t burden Boeing with costs that would give competitors an edge. Company negotiators accused SPEEA of abandoning contract talks early and of misrepresenting Boeing’s offer to union members.

“There should be no question about the respect we have for our engineering and technical workforce. We’ve made proposals supported by facts and data relevant to our employees and our business,” Boeing negotiators wrote in a Sept. 18 message to SPEEA members.

Both sides have contributed to an escalation in rhetoric during the voting in recent weeks, with Boeing discussing future options for shifting engineering work elsewhere and the union making clear that a work slowdown, which could affect airplane deliveries, is in its arsenal.

Boeing engineers and technical workers design new jets, troubleshoot existing ones and sign off on deliveries. SPEEA has staged only one major strike against the company, a 40-day work stoppage in 2000.

Not only is Boeing negotiating a new contract with SPEEA, it’s speeding up the pace of aircraft production and working on new development programs like the 737 MAX, 787-9 and 767-based aerial-refueling tanker for the U.S. Air Force.

Prior to the vote, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney told Reuters that he believes the company will reach a resolution with the union over the next “few weeks.” McNerney spoke Monday from Charleston, S.C., where he attended a business conference. Boeing is expected to deliver the first 787 assembled in South Carolina soon.

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