SPEEA to recommend rejection of ‘final’ Boeing offer

The union representing Boeing Co. engineers and technical workers will urge members reject what the company called a final contract offer and will ask members to give union leaders authority to call a strike.

That was the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace’s response Thursday to an offer Boeing leaders had called “market-leading.”

The negotiating session took place as Boeing scrambled to solve an engineering dilemma: how to get the 787 back in the air after federal regulators grounded the Dreamliner over concerns with the jet’s batteries.

On Wednesday, SPEEA, which represents 22,950 Boeing workers, had suggested rolling over the present contract for another four years to free the company and union members from”protracted and increasingly contentious negotiations that appear headed for a strike” so both sides could focus on the developing 787 crisis.

In a counter offer Thursday, Boeing agreed — to a point. On compensation, Boeing said it was willing to keep in place 5 percent annual salary increases and to keep SPEEA member health-care plans in place “with no increase in employee contributions.”

The union was making plans late Thursday to put the contract up for a vote, likely by early February. With Boeing and SPEEA at odds over a company-proposed two-tier pension, the union also will seek authority from members to call a strike. If SPEEA members approve concur, and Goforth is confident they will, SPEEA would give Boeing an opportunity to change its mind on the pension issue before calling a work stoppage.

Overall, Boeing said of its “best and final” offer, the average engineer would see an increase of $84,071 in pay and incentives over the life of a new four-year deal, while the average technical worker would receive an additional $64,515.

“We’ve done exactly what SPEEA has asked for,” said Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman. “We feel like we’ve gone above and beyond.”

But in an effort to reduce pension costs, Boeing said it still wants to enroll future engineers and technical workers in a 401(k) retirement plan rather than the defined pension that existing union members have.

That’s a sticking point for SPEEA, union executive director Ray Goforth said Thursday. The union believes the 401(k) plan is inferior. And SPEEA thinks the company could drive a wedge between members who have a traditional pension and those with 401(k) in future negotiations.

The change in retirement for new hires would enable the company to better manage expenses, Mike Delaney, vice president of engineering for commercial airplanes, said in a statement. Throughout the year-long negotiations, Boeing has underscored the need to keep costs competitive in metropolitan Puget Sound. The company needs to cut costs if it wants to invest in new technologies, Alder reiterated Thursday.

Whether that desired cost-cutting could lead to a costly and untimely strike by Boeing’s engineers and technical workers is unclear.

Boeing needs the experience of SPEEA members to resolve the 787 battery problem as well as assist the Federal Aviation Administration in a comprehensive review of the Dreamliner.

Or, at least, that’s what SPEEA leaders say.

“They created problems with the 787 with outsourcing,” Goforth said. “Now they want to restore confidence in the 787 by outsourcing the problem-solving. That’s a sad joke.”

The company, on the other hand, says it has plans for dealing with those issues should SPEEA members strike. Boeing could tap engineering resources from other Boeing divisions, like defense and space.

Analyst Scott Hamilton of Issaquah-based Leeham Co. questions whether engineers are as interchangeable as Boeing implies. For example, only about 1,500 engineers and technical workers have the delegated FAA authority to sign off on jet deliveries. Those workers could all be out on strike should Boeing and SPEEA fail to reach an agreement.

“Boeing needs all hands on deck,” Hamilton wrote in an email Wednesday.

In October, union members rejected Boeing’s first contract offer, which included annual wage-pool raises of 2 percent to 3.5 percent over four years and required workers to pay more toward health care. Federal mediators joined negotiations in December.

SPEEA has gone on strike twice before: a one-day walkout in 1993 and a 40-day strike in 2000, which stalled jet deliveries. The union has been holding strike-preparation meetings for weeks. Besides dealing with 787 troubles, Boeing also is increasing jet production and juggling development programs like the 767-derived Air Force tanker, 737 MAX and new 787-9.

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

Steps to vote — and maybe strike

Here’s an approximate timeline of events leading to a SPEEA vote. Dates are tentative.

Jan. 22: SPEEA’s bargaining council meets for final signoff on negotiator recommendations.

Jan. 26: Union mails member ballots, which can be dropped off or mailed in.

Early February: SPEEA tallies the contract and strike authorization votes.

  • To approve or reject the contract, SPEEA needs a simple 50 percent plus one.
  • To give strike authority to negotiators, SPEEA needs the OK of 50 percent plus one.

If the contract is rejected, SPEEA officials say, they would be willing to meet with Boeing again.

A strike could be called by early to mid-February.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Chai Cupboard is a new loose tea and spice shop downtown, owned by Jeni Ellis and husband Tim, on Thursday, April 22, 2021 in Everett, Washington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
New downtown Everett store offers loose tea and spices

Bring your tea caddy or spice jar: Chai Cupboard carries more than 100 teas and 100 spices.

FILE - In this Monday, March 1, 2021 file photo, The first Alaska Airlines passenger flight on a Boeing 737-9 Max airplane takes off on a flight to San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. Many new Boeing 737 Max jetliners are still grounded by an electrical problem in a backup power-control unit. The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday, April 22, 2021 that 106 planes worldwide are grounded, including 71 in the United States. Airlines are waiting for Boeing to come up with a plan for repairing the planes, and that plan would need FAA approval. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Halt to 737 Max deliveries stymies Boeing’s recovery effort

So far in 2021, the company has delivered 94 jets and won 84 net new orders.

Highland Simulant, a simulated lunar soil made by Off Planet Research, pours from a researcher's hands. Photo credit: Off Planet Research
Space company makes a soft landing at the Port of Everett

Off Planet Research creates simulated lunar soils here, so that moon landers can touch down gently.

Owners Krista and Eric Brown sit among rows of wines at The Grape & Grain, a new independent beer and wine store on Evergreen Way, on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
New Everett wine and beer shop focuses on local brands

The Grape & Grain store offers wine and beer from “our backyard” — Washington, Oregon and California.

Students use a modular skills trainer during class Thursday morning at Edmonds Community College on April 29, 2021.
(Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Nurses Week, from May 6- 12, honors the nation’s caregivers

Local nursing students and faculty say they couldn’t let the pandemic get in the way of their goals.

The Waterfront Place Apartments north building at the Port of Everett’s Waterfront Place cold see residents moving in by May 15. on Thursday, April 22, 2021 in Everett, Washington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Now playing at the Port of Everett: sudden density

New Waterfront Place Apartments open May 15 at the port — local retailers welcome the influx.

Indian drink condiments cartoon vector illustration. Traditional beverage flavourings in wooden bowls flat color object. Tea additives, hot drink ingredients isolated on white background
You voted: The best Indian food in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people still have their favorites.

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2019, file photo, people stand in the lobby for Amazon offices in New York. Amazon, which has been under pressure from shoppers, brands and lawmakers to crack down on counterfeits on its site, said Monday, May 10, 2021, that it blocked more than 10 billion suspected phony listings last year before any of their offerings could be sold. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Amazon blocked 10 billion listings in counterfeit crackdown

Scammers tried to take advantage of shoppers who were buying more online during the pandemic.

A Mexican tacos food truck, people ordering and waiting their takeaway food
You voted: The best food truck in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people still have their favorites.

One of the Jetty Island ferry captains waits for boarders as the ferry begins operations for the summer on Wednesday, Jul. 6, 2016 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Port, county to pay Everett for Jetty Island ferry this year

The Port of Everett and Snohomish County plan to make an online system for $3 reservations.

Boeing crash victims’ families push for changes at FAA

Hundreds are demanding the ouster of the agency’s administrator, Stephen Dickson, and others.

fish and chips cartoon
You voted: The best fish and chips in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people still have their favorites.