Boeing Machinists vote to return to work

SEATAC — The Boeing Co. Machinists strike is over after union members voted Saturday to accept the company’s latest contract offer.

“The members sent us back to the bargaining table to get improvements from Boeing on wages, pension, health care and job security,” said Tom Wroblewski, Machinists district president. “And this contract delivered on all four.”

About 74 percent of voting Machinists approved Boeing’s four-year labor deal, 57 days into a labor strike that shut down jet production at the company’s factories across the Puget Sound region. Nearly 27,000 Machinists, who have been on strike since Sept. 6, will be back building Boeing airliners within the next week.

“Fifty-seven days has been difficult on all of our members,” said Mark Blondin, aerospace coordinator for the Machinists union. “They’re good people, they work hard and they want to go back to building airplanes.”

Machinists had rejected Boeing’s previous contract citing issues with wages, pension, health care and job security. On Monday, leaders for Boeing and the union tentatively agreed on the new contract, which includes a 15 percent wage increase over four years, a minimum of $8,000 in individual bonuses and a boost in pensions. The contract also freezes the health care plan at 2005 levels and guarantees 5,000 union positions in materials handling and maintenance work over the next four years.

“I believe we got the best we could,” Wroblewski said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire called the approval of the contract “great news for the men and women of the Boeing Company, Boeing’s international customers and Washington state.

“The new contract allows for a long-term and productive partnership between Boeing and the IAM to continue to construct the best aircraft in the world,” she added.

The strike of 2008 has been the third-longest against Boeing in the union’s history. Machinists stayed out 69 day in 1995. Observers then estimated it would take the average union member two years to make up the salary lost during the work stoppage. The longest Machinist strike lasted 140 days in 1948.

The average Machinist lost about $10,000 in salary and overtime during the past eight weeks on strike. A relatively new Machinist, however, making $12.72 per hour, lost about $5,000, which is the minimum bonus each Machinist will receive under the contract by Nov. 7.

Analysts estimate the strike cost Boeing as much as $100 million a day in lost revenue. But the company will make some of that back as it works off a backlog of 3,700 orders for commercial aircraft. The company already is engaged with negotiations with SPEEA, its engineering and technical workers union, which represents roughly 21,000 workers.

“We’re looking forward to having our team back together to resume the work of building airplanes for our customers,” said Scott Carson, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and chief executive in a statement. “This new contract addresses the union’s job security issues while enabling Boeing to retain the flexibility needed to run the business. It rewards employees for their contribution to our success with industry-leading pay and benefits and allows us to remain competitive.”

But some union members thought the company’s latest offer sounded too much like the previous one, just spread out over four years rather than three.

Machinist Andy Mason watched the ballots being counted with his wife, Vicki. The couple was at the union hall nearly two months ago when Machinists rejected the contract. Mason, who has been with Boeing since 1979, works on the 767 line in Everett.

Mason voted to reject the offer but was glad that Boeing offered a wage increase for newer Machinists, who are in between the minimum and maximum of their pay grades.

“This gives the new guys a little more,” Mason said.

But he would have liked to see even stronger job guarantees for the future, even though Mason plans to retire in the next four to five years.

“The people before me fought for us,” he said. “Now we’re fighting for the new hires.”

Blondin also pointed out that the new contract included better bonuses and locked in health care at the same rates it has been since 2002.

Medical and dental benefits had been a concern for Carol Paine, who works in Renton and helped count ballots Saturday night. Paine felt the new contract offered improvements over the previous offer.

“I’m glad to see it passed,” she said.

Machinists can return back to work as early as the third shift tonight. They have a week to return to Boeing. The results of the vote were announced to a small crowd at the union’s hall in Seattle on Saturday night, after union officials ushered media out of the room. The Machinists, who had invited the press to the event, later allowed the media back in and provided the vote results.

The strike pushed back deliveries of Boeing jets and piled on delays to its already late 787 Dreamliner program. Boeing executives told investors last month that the company anticipates at least one-day “slide” for each day of the strike in the 787’s schedule. Company leaders weren’t sure how long it would take to gain back production momentum to its pre-strike levels.

“This is an opportunity for us to do whatever we can to make the company successful and profitable,” Wroblewski said. “But not at the cost of our jobs.”

Strike details

The new contract was approved by 74 percent of the members voting.

Workers could go back to work as soon as tonight’s late shift at midnight, but have a week to return.

The 57-day strike was the third longest in company history.

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