Boeing, engineers union terms look strong as vote deadline nears

EVERETT — Members of the engineers union at the Boeing Co. are reading through the fine print and voting on a six-year contract proposal.

The proposed terms substantially change health and retirement benefits, while keeping wages above the market average for engineers and other white-collar workers represented by Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA).

Errors with printing and mailing ballots delayed voting, which ends 5 p.m., Feb. 17. SPEEA’s two biggest bargaining units are voting on contracts — 14,169 engineers in the union’s Professional Unit and 6,024 technical workers in the Technical Unit.

Union staff have held several workshops to answer members questions about the proposed terms.

“At each meeting, it seems like the vast majority of people in the room are going to vote yes,” SPEEA Executive Director Ray Goforth said.

If the proposal is approved, it will be retroactively effective to Feb. 11, the day after the original voting deadline. It will not affect the timeline for some changes, such as those to health and pension benefits, which are being phased in at later dates.

Regardless of how SPEEA members vote, it is not a simple decision for many.

The proposed contract came out of secret negotiations between the company and the union. Both sides committed to a streamlined, collaborative approach that set aside much of the posturing and saber-rattling that can bog down labor contract bargaining.

That approach would not have happened without approval from Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, Goforth said.

The mood during negotiations was focused on finding solutions that work for both sides, said Todd Zarfos, a vice president and one of the top engineers at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. He has represented the company in negotiations with SPEEA since 2002.

The proposal includes what is called a soft freeze of members’ pension benefit. How much the pension pays out is driven by how many years a union member is at Boeing and that member’s average wages. Under the proposed terms, SPEEA members would stop accruing service years in 2019, but their wages after that point would be factored into their retirement payouts.

The terms also increase how much Boeing puts into members’ defined contribution plans, commonly called 401(k) retirement plans.

Those are much better terms than other Boeing employees have gotten in recent years, Goforth said. “It’s 66 percent to 77 percent of what you would get if the pension was not affected. Others have gotten about 40 cents on the dollar.”

Like many American corporations, Boeing has moved away from pensions, which carry long-term costs that investors dislike.

The proposed contracts change health benefits, shifting more costs to workers.

“The purpose isn’t simply cost-shifting,” though, Goforth said. “The purpose is to drive people to make better healthcare decisions.”

The contract also makes it costlier for Boeing to move work away from Washington. If that happens, the company will “do everything possible to find other work” for any affected SPEEA members, Zarfos said.

In the proposals, Boeing promises to spend four months trying to reassign affected workers; if unsuccessful, Boeing agreed to significantly increase the involuntary layoff benefit. That payout would be a minimum of 26 weeks of pay, up to 60 weeks. Currently, 26 weeks is the ceiling for the payout.

The terms do not prevent Boeing from moving work, Goforth said. “Boeing just has to throw money at it.” The point, though, is to make it more financially painful to move jobs, he said.

Boeing has moved about 4,000 engineering jobs out of the state since 2012.

Company execs told SPEEA officials that those moves will be much rarer going forward, Goforth said. “I believe them” that they feel the company has adequately repositioned its workforce and is focused on doing work where people are now.

Increasing the involuntary layoff benefits also sends a signal to Boeing’s middle management ranks that execs are not interested in drastically shifting work unless there is no other option, he said.

Nevertheless, Boeing lobbied against a proposed bill by Rep. June Robinson (D-Everett) in the Legislature to tie the state’s aerospace industry tax benefits to job numbers. The bill was defeated in committee earlier this month.

“It is vastly disappointing to see some legislators ignore their colleagues and their constituents so blatantly,” SPEEA President Ryan Rule said in a statement after the vote. “With more than 4,000 jobs lost — including nearly 3,000 good engineering and technical jobs already moved from Washington since aerospace incentives were extended; how many more jobs must be lost before something is done?”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454;

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Yansi De La Cruz molds a cheese mixture into bone shapes at Himalayan Dog Chew on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Give a dog a bone? How about a hard cheese chew from Arlington instead!

Launched from a kitchen table in 2003, Himalayan Pet Supply now employs 160 workers at its new Arlington factory.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Washington minimum wage to top $16 an hour next year

Meanwhile, some salaried workers and rideshare drivers could see their earnings rise from other state-required adjustments.

Inside the new Boeing 737 simulator at Simulation Flight in Mukilteo, Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
New Boeing 737 simulator takes ‘flight’ in Mukilteo

Pilots can test their flying skills or up their game at Simulation Flight in Mukilteo.

An Amazon worker transfers and organizes items at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amazon cuts ribbon on colossal $355M fulfillment center in Arlington

At 2.8 million square feet, the facility is the largest of its kind in Washington. It can hold 40 million “units” of inventory.

A computer rendering of the North Creek Commerce Center industrial park in development at 18712 Bothell-Everett Highway. (Kidder Mathews)
Developer breaks ground on new Bothell industrial park

The North Creek Commerce Center on Bothell Everett Highway will provide warehouse and office space in three buildings.

Dan Bates / The Herald
Funko president, Brian Mariotti is excited about the growth that has led his company to need a 62,000 square foot facility in Lynnwood.
Photo Taken: 102312
Former Funko CEO resigns from the Everett company

Brian Mariotti resigned Sept. 1, six weeks after announcing he was taking a six-month sabbatical from the company.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Paper or plastic? Snohomish County may require businesses to take cash

County Council member Nate Nehring proposed an ordinance to ban cashless sales under $200. He hopes cities will follow suit.

Catherine Robinweiler leads the class during a lab session at Edmonds College on April 29, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Grant aids apprenticeship program in Mukilteo and elsewhere

A $5.6 million U.S. Department of Labor grant will boost apprenticeships for special education teachers and nurses.

Peoples Bank is placing piggy banks with $30 around Washington starting Aug. 1.
(Peoples Bank)
Peoples Bank grant program seeks proposals from nonprofits

Peoples Bank offers up to $35,000 in Impact Grants aimed at helping communities. Applications due Sept. 15.

Workers build the first all-electric commuter plane, the Eviation Alice, at Eviation's plant on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington’s Eviation selects Seattle firm to configure production plane

TLG Aerospace chosen to configure Eviation Aircraft’s all-electric commuter plane for mass production.

Orca Mobility designer Mike Lowell, left, and CEO Bill Messing at their office on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Could a Granite Falls startup’s three-wheeler revolutionize delivery?

Orca Mobility’s battery-powered, three-wheel truck is built on a motorcycle frame. Now, they aim to make it self-driving.

Members of Gravitics' team and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen stand in front of a mockup of a space module interior on Thursday, August 17, 2023 at Gravitics' Marysville facility. Left to right: Mark Tiner, government affairs representative; Jiral Shah, business development; U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen; Mike DeRosa, marketing; Scott Macklin, lead engineer. (Gravitics.)
Marysville startup prepares for space — the financial frontier

Gravitics is building space station module prototypes to one day house space travelers and researchers.