By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
EVERETT — A strike by 22,950 Boeing Co. engineers and technical workers, if it happens, will come after months of fruitless talks and plenty of planning by leaders and members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.
Dozens of SPEEA members gathered last week at the union’s hall in Everett to learn how they could play a role if a strike is called.
During a strike, SPEEA members will be expected to walk a picket line at one of many Boeing locations around the Puget Sound region, for 16 hours each week, usually in four-hour shifts.
Since late last year, the union has been asking members to sign up to be picket captains, who help both before and during the strike. SPEEA already has lined up most of the picket captains for Everett.
Elaine Griffis, who lives in Snohomish, plans to be one of those captains. Griffis has been with Boeing for 29 years and took part in SPEEA’s 40-day strike in 2000 and one day strike in 1993.
“It feels a lot like when we struck the last time,” Griffis said.
Carrie Blackwood, a SPEEA staff member who led Wednesday’s session in Everett, told members that a strike would be called only if the union gets to a point that its contract isn’t at least the same as it has been or better.
Boeing and SPEEA officials have been negotiating for a new labor contract since April. After rejecting one contract offer in October, SPEEA began the slow process of readying members for a walkout. Negotiators for both sides, however, say they’re still hoping to avoid a strike.
Talks resumed last week after a month-long hiatus. But a partial offer made Friday by Boeing was met with resistance from SPEEA. The two could meet again Wednesday. But SPEEA leaders also could decide to send Boeing’s offer to members for a vote. If so, they’ll ask members to authorize negotiators to call a strike if they deem it necessary.
Debi Pennington, a technical worker and SPEEA member, has 18 years of experience with Boeing even with two layoffs. In terms of a contract, she would like to see the union at least “maintain what we’ve got” in the contract, not take a step back.
So far, Pennington isn’t happy with the tone of negotiations between Boeing and the union. “I think (Boeing is) forgetting what happened last time,” Pennington said.
Pennington walked the picket line with SPEEA when the union struck Boeing for 40 days in 2000. Compared to then, she believes Boeing is taking “a harder tone” in contract talks. Pennington resents company statements that imply Boeing would move work elsewhere if it can’t keep costs affordable in the Puget Sound region.
“If they want to take my job to South Carolina and give it to someone who can barely pass high school … they’ll lose out,” she said.
Boeing has a second 787 assembly plant in North Charleston, S.C. The original 787 assembly line is here in Everett.
The offer Boeing discussed with SPEEA in late November didn’t match what the company gave the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in late 2011, Pennington said.
“It makes you feel like a stepchild, like you don’t deserve anything,” Griffis said of Boeing’s offer.
Boeing’s new offer Friday increased annual wage-pool raises compared to the company’s previous proposals. But to maintain both short- and long-term competitiveness, Boeing said, it will still seek to switch incoming SPEEA members to a 401(k) retirement rather than the defined pension that engineers and technical workers have now.
Griffis said she believes Boeing’s pension is what sets it apart from other aerospace companies and that it helps attract new workers.
Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.