SPEEA engineers, techs split on Boeing contract vote

Boeing Co. engineers and technical workers came to different conclusions about the company’s contract offer, with engineers voting to accept a four-year deal and technical workers rejecting it.

The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace announced results of the contract vote late Tuesday night at the union headquarters in Tukwila. The union said that 6,483 engineers voted to accept the contract, while 5,514 voted to reject it.

Technical workers, however, voted down Boeing’s contract proposal 3,203 to 2,868. The technical workers also voted to give SPEEA negotiators the authority to call a strike, if necessary.

In all, 18,043 SPEEA members, or 79.2 percent of those eligible, voted.

The SPEEA vote spanned two weeks and added drama to an ongoing 787 crisis. Boeing is struggling to return the Dreamliner to passenger service after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the company’s newest jet more than a month ago, and SPEEA members are crucial to that effort.

Ray Goforth, SPEEA’s executive director, said the union will ask Boeing to reconvene negotiations to come up with a contract proposal that technical workers will accept.

“It’s time for the company to stop wasting resources and improve its offer to reflect the value and contributions technical workers bring to Boeing,” Goforth said in a statement. “That way, we can avoid a strike and focus on fixing the problems of the 787 and restoring customer confidence in Boeing.”

SPEEA’s engineers also approved strike authorization, although that no longer matters because the engineers, who generally are higher paid, voted to accept the company’s offer. However, the 15,550 engineers can provide “inside support” to technical workers if a strike is called, SPEEA said without elaborating.

The union’s 22,950 engineers and technical workers at Everett, Renton and other locations in Western Washington design new aircraft, test and approve deliveries of existing models on behalf of the federal government and troubleshoot problems on assembly lines. About half work at the Boeing factory and offices at Paine Field.

Boeing said in a statement late Tuesday that it was pleased the engineers accepted the company’s contract but “deeply disappointed” the technical workers did not. Ray Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, reiterated the need to switch new employees to a 401(k) plan.

“The realities of the market require us to make changes so we can invest in new products and keep winning in this competitive environment, which will allow us to continue to provide a solid future for our team,” Conner said.

Despite what union leader termed a “poison pill” — the pension change — union negotiators have said the company’s four-year deal contains plenty of positives: no increase in employee contributions for medical insurance and 5 percent annual increases to wage pools. The average Boeing engineer makes $110,000 annually, while the average technical worker earns $79,300.

Goforth suggested Tuesday that members should celebrate the amount of concessions the union was able to get from Boeing over the course of negotiations. Boeing’s initial offer included 2 percent to 3.5 percent annual wage increases and required workers to pay more for health care.

Boeing and SPEEA have been negotiating a new contract for some 10 months. Ninety-six percent of SPEEA members who voted in early October rejected the company’s first offer. The two sides made little progress over the next few months, despite the help of federal observers. The union also in recent months has filed several unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.

The pace of negotiations picked up in early January as the 787 ran into trouble and ultimately was grounded Jan. 16 by federal authorities. The company then agreed to SPEEA’s previous request to roll over the existing contract, with one big exception: Boeing said that under its final offer new hires who become SPEEA members would be enrolled in a 401(k) retirement plan rather than the defined pension program that present SPEEA members have.

SPEEA negotiators had urged engineers and technical workers to reject Boeing’s offer, saying the change in retirement would eventually divide the union.

Conner had appealed to SPEEA member loyalty to the company’s products, including the 787, in a message sent early this month to workers.

“It was your innovation, talent and skill that brought the 787 Dreamliner to life,” the Boeing executive wrote recently. “Now more than ever, we need to deliver on those promises by coming together as one team.”

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

SPEEA voting

Here’s how members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace voted on a contract offer by Boeing and on authorization of a possible strike. In each case, a simple majority prevails.

Engineers contract vote: 6,483 in favor to 5,514 opposed

Technical workers contract vote: 3,203 opposed to 2,868 in favor

Engineers strike vote: 6,727 in favor to 5,249 opposed

Technical workers strike vote: 3,903 in favor to 2,165 opposed

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