SPEEA council urges members to reject Boeing ‘final’ offer

Boeing Co. engineers and technical workers will have until Feb. 19 to vote on whether to give union negotiators the OK to call a strike if the two sides can’t agree on a new labor contract.

Representative members of the council that governs the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace gave the nod Thursday to include strike authorization on a contract ballot. And the 105-member council by a wide margin voted to urge members to reject Boeing’s offer, the union said.

The votes by council members who represent Boeing technical workers were unanimous. There was one dissenting vote on the strike and contract recommendations among the council members who represent engineers. SPEEA negotiators, too, had recommended that members reject Boeing’s offer and give them the authority to call a strike.

But the entire membership will have the opportunity to decide, with ballots to be mailed Tuesday. SPEEA members will have until Feb. 19 to mail back or drop off ballots.

The ballots will have two measures:

  • Members will vote to accept or to reject Boeing’s contract offer of Jan. 17.
  • They’ll vote on whether to authorize SPEEA negotiators to call a strike, if necessary.

Either measure passes with a simple majority of the vote.

Boeing officials expressed disappointment with the council’s decision.

“We hope (employees) run the numbers for themselves and vote for what’s best for them and the long-term competitiveness of the company,” said the company’s written statement.

During a meeting with members Tuesday, union negotiators predicted that the soonest they would call for a strike would be early March, after members receive incentive pay for 2012 and after medical benefits kick in for the month.

Union leaders have vowed to return to negotiations with Boeing should members vote down the contract and approve a strike. That would allow the company a last chance to appease engineers and technical workers before a strike would be called.

But Boeing officials, who have called their proposal “market-leading,” left little room for further talks in their statement Thursday night.

“Our negotiations team went all in and left nothing on the table,” Boeing said, calling the offer its “best and final.”

A strike could hardly come at a worse time for Boeing. The company’s 787 was grounded Jan. 16 by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA also is conducting a comprehensive review of the 787, given the array of battery, fuel-line and engine troubles that the all-new, mostly composite jet has encountered since it entered service in late 2011.

While most industry observers, as well as SPEEA leaders, say the company’s engineers are critical to getting the 787 back in the air and assisting with the FAA’s probe, Boeing officials have suggested the company could tap engineering resources in other divisions and in locations outside the Western Washington area.

“We’ve observed a certain level of delusional thinking from corporate negotiators” on that issue, Roger Pullman, a SPEEA negotiator, told members Tuesday in Everett.

Aside from the 787 woes, Boeing also is working to ramp up production on the Dreamliner and the 737 and to develop new products such as the 767-based aerial-refueling tanker, the 787-9 and the 737 MAX. A work stoppage by SPEEA additionally could stall aircraft deliveries, given that SPEEA members are responsible for signing off on those on behalf of the FAA.

Thursday night, Boeing said that only its competitors would benefit from a strike.

“We are very hopeful that our discussions with SPEEA won’t come to that,” CEO Jim McNerney had said from Chicago during a conference call with investors Wednesday.

SPEEA’s 21,249 members in metropolitan Western Washington are engineers and technical workers who design and test Boeing planes and resolve problems on assembly lines in Everett and Renton.

Earlier this month, Boeing proposed to roll over the contract signed in 2008 with SPEEA, which early in the negotiating process had asked for a four-year extension. But Boeing wants a change that the union leadership calls significant and a show-stopper: All SPEEA members hired after Feb. 28 would have a 401(k) retirement plan rather than the defined pension present union members have.

Union negotiators say that would create a division between existing and future SPEEA members that could prove harmful to both down the road.

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

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