SPEEA urges members to reject Boeing contract

Leaders for the union representing Boeing Co. engineers and technical workers urged members on Monday to reject a contract offer from the company.

Boeing made its first complete contract offer last Thursday to negotiators for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. The union represents 22,765 Puget Sound-area workers who design and test commercial airplanes and their components. The contract expires Oct. 6.

On Monday, SPEEA’s bargaining council members unanimously decided to send the contract to members for a vote with the recommendation to reject Boeing’s offer. Union negotiators could have chosen to continue contract talks with company leaders this week.

“A strong rejection by members of these contract offers will send a loud message to Boeing corporate leaders that they must return to negotiations ready to actually negotiate a contract that respects our contribution,” SPEEA leaders said in a message to union members.

On Thursday, Boeing officials had said they were willing to continue negotiating with the union this week. SPEEA leaders noted in a letter to Boeing that its negotiators have been unwilling to engage in a “substantive dialog” with union representatives

A Boeing spokesman did not comment immediately on SPEEA’s decision.

Boeing’s offer included 3.5 percent annual wage-pool increases for engineers and 2 percent to 3 percent for technical workers. Both had received annual increases of 5 percent under the current contract.

The company also proposed an increase in employee contributions to health coverage beginning in 2014. Boeing offered a 9.6 percent increase to pension for existing employees but proposed switching new workers to a 401(k) plan rather than the defined pension.

SPEEA members who attended a rally in Everett last week had signaled that eliminating the pension for new SPEEA members was a deal-breaker.

“We’re not going to sell out the people who come behind us,” said Terry Quick, a 22-year Boeing engineer.

Over the past few weeks, SPEEA leaders have suggested that union members might need to vote down the company’s first offer to get Boeing’s attention and demonstrate solidarity.

In their message to members, SPEEA leaders noted that the increase in wages is the lowest that the company has offered since 1975. The average SPEEA engineer working for Boeing in the Puget Sound region makes about $110,000 while the average technical worker makes $79,300, according to the union.

“For a company experiencing record profits, orders and financial success, this proposal fails at every level to recognize our contributions or respect the professionalism and dedication we bring to work each day,” SPEEA leaders wrote.

Ray Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, was asked about SPEEA while speaking at a Morgan Stanley conference Friday. Like other Boeing executives, Conner stressed the company’s plan to “present a total compensation package that’s market leading.”

Conner was seen as instrumental in negotiations that resulted in an early contract with the local district of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in late 2011. However, SPEEA leaders have said Conner has been essentially absent from contract talks with the engineers and technical workers, which the union views as ominous. Conner disputed that assertion in message to employees last week, saying Boeing’s engineering team brings “critical value” to the company.

When asked about the balance between keeping employees happy and Boeing’s desire to cut pension costs, Conner noted that the company hadn’t been able to change the Machinists’ pension plan. However, Conner said, Boeing made “some movement” on wages and medical expenses with that union, which represents the men and women who assemble Boeing jets in Everett and Renton.

With SPEEA, “I think it’s a good opportunity to make some changes,” Conner said. “Hopefully, our employees can recognize the need to do it.”

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

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