SPEEA vote on Boeing offer should be clear by Feb. 7

The Boeing Co. should know by Feb. 7 whether its latest contract offer was enough to stave off a strike by engineers and technical workers.

After receiving Boeing’s “best and final” offer Thursday, negotiators for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace said they’ll put the company’s offer to a vote and urge the union’s 22,950 members to reject it. On Friday, SPEEA said they’ll likely tally votes Feb. 7. Union officials are to meet Tuesday to iron out the details.

Boeing essentially offered to roll over the union’s present contract — a move that SPEEA leaders previously had requested — with a few exceptions. A change in the company’s retirement plan for new hires is the key exception in the proposed new contract, which includes 5 percent annual wage-pool increases over four years.

On Friday, SPEEA negotiators explained their recommendation that members vote down the company’s offer. In switching new hires to a 401(k) plan, rather than the pension, those workers will have retirement plans with a value about 40 percent less than if they were enrolled in the pension plan, the union said in a written statement.

“Elimination of the pension for new hires is the first step toward freezing the pension for existing employees,” union negotiators said in a statement.

SPEEA said the company could freeze its pension contribution in as soon as eight years, or two contract cycles. By that point, the union estimates, more members would have the 401(k) plan than the pension.

The union also said that Boeing’s offer puts at risk the health care benefit for members who retire early. Members who joined Boeing by 2005 still have their health costs covered until 65, even if they retire before that. SPEEA wanted to add language to the contract that would extend that to age 70, should Congress raise the Medicare eligibility age. Boeing declined.

On Thursday, Mike Delaney, vice president of engineering for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, again called the company’s contract offer “market-leading” and urged SPEEA members to vote to accept it.

For his part, Delaney explained the company’s rationale for the pension change.

“Moving new hires to an enhanced retirement savings plan will provide future employees with a market-leading retirement plan — while allowing Boeing to better manage retirement plan expenses, reduce financial risk and invest in areas critical to the success of our business,” he said in a statement.

SPEEA’s vote takes place about a week after Boeing announces its fourth quarter and 2012 earnings on Jan. 30.

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

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