SPEEA talks with Boeing resume this week

The union representing Boeing Co. technical workers is polling members online through Wednesday about contract priorities as negotiations with the company resume this week.

The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace launched the survey Friday on its website after technical workers earlier in the week voted down Boeing’s second contract offer. The technical workers also rejected the company’s initial offer in October.

Contract talks will start up again Wednesday, a Boeing spokesman said. Federal mediators in Washington, D.C., are expected to take part. Boeing had asked for mediator assistance late last year, before presenting the union with its second offer.

Boeing technical workers perform a variety of tasks for the company, serving as liaisons between engineers and machinists on the shop floor. Some are involved with aircraft flight testing, customer service and calibration. Technical workers at Boeing’s Portland, Ore., location are “key to the production of landing gear,” said Bill Dugovich, SPEEA communications director.

The technical workers not only rejected Boeing’s offer but voted to allow SPEEA negotiators to call a strike should future negotiations break down. Boeing’s 15,500 engineers, who also are represented by SPEEA, accepted the company’s offer in voting that ended Tuesday.

The technical workers and engineers haven’t differed in a contract vote like this since 1989, Dugovich said. Then, the technical workers accepted Boeing’s contract while engineers rejected it. Two months later, the engineers ratified a new contract without calling for a work stoppage.

Dugovich declined to speculate how likely a strike is by Boeing’s 7,400 technical workers, of whom about 3,900 work in Everett. He said the union’s goal is to get a contract the technical workers will accept. The survey will help SPEEA negotiators understand where the technical workers’ priorities are.

“There are some issues that could require a strike,” Dugovich said.

In the last offer, SPEEA leaders flagged a change in retirement plans for new workers as the “poison pill” or major issue that prompted them to urge technical workers and engineers alike to reject the contract. Engineers went against negotiator recommendations, voting 6,483 to 5,514 to accept the contract.

Boeing has downplayed the impact of a possible strike throughout negotiations, saying it has contingency plans.

But Dugovich doesn’t believe the company could easily mitigate a strike by the technical workers.

“You couldn’t remove more than 7,000 workers and not have an effect,” he said.

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

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