Machinists reject pact at Boeing, but strike vote doesn't fly

Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) overwhelmingly rejected Boeing's "last, best and final" contract offer Sept. 13, but they failed to muster the 66.6 percent majority required to strike the company, union officials announced.˜

The vote to reject the contract was 62 percent - about the same percentage that voted to strike.

Under provisions of the IAM constitution, Boeing's proposed contract automatically took effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14. It was the first time in Boeing contract negotiations history that a strike authorization vote failed after a contract had been rejected.

Machinists International President tom Buffenbarger said the two-thirds authorization to strike protects members from sacrificing their earnings and savings "when the support necessary to sustain a strike does not exist." He said over the next three years the union "will make the best of a bad situation by doing everything in our power to protect and aggressively represent our members." ˜

The pact covers 25,000 IAM members at Boeing locations in Washington, Kansas and Oregon. Membership has dropped significantly - nearly 30,000 workers have been laid off - since the last Machinists contract vote three years ago. And because new language in the implemented contract allows for open-ended subcontracting, Bob Petroff, directing business representative of Portland-based Machinists District Lodge 24, believes it could be the beginning of the end for the Boeing parts plant in Gresham.

Machinists Lodge 63 represents 854 workers at the Gresham plant - down several hundred from three years ago.

"I'm afraid it will be fewer than that three years from now," Petroff said. "We could be gone (the Gresham plant)."

Boeing has not kept secret the fact that it wants to discontinue manufacturing and producing airplane parts. "They only want to assemble planes," Petroff said.

The implemented contract guts existing subcontracting language and significantly reduces the union's ability to stop offloading of work and preventing vendors from performing Machinists' work on the shop floor.

Petroff said the union is waiting for an arbitrator to rule on a complaint it filed against Boeing (under the previous contract) for subcontracting work while at the same time laying off union employees.

Following the Sept. 13 contract vote, Boeing chief executive Alan Mulally told the Seattle Times that if more orders don't materialize in the next two to three months even more layoffs could follow (above the 30,000 job cuts currently being implemented).

The final ballot count was not broken down by district lodges, so percentages were based on votes from all three states. Petroff would not disclose the results from Lodge 63 other than to say, "The Gresham site has nothing to be ashamed of. They worked very hard participating in the process and we are proud of what we accomplished as a team."

Dick Schneider, the Machinists chief negotiator who is out of District Lodge 24, said, "Boeing has used scare tactics, threats and the very real economic hardships of these times to force this job-killing contract on the union membership.˜

"Boeing may think they won a victory, but what does any company gain by threatening and bullying its workforce? Boeing has bought themselves years of resentment and deep internal division, and that's no basis for a competitive, high-productivity company. What sort of victory is that?"

˜Petroff said on Sept. 11 - the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks - Mulally posted an open letter to all bargaining unit members stating that the company's "last, best and final" offer was just that, and that they shouldn't expect any improvements if they went on strike.

"Fear and intimidation ... Boeing managers aggressively campaigned for employees to accept the offer," Petroff said.

Union officials said Boeing managers were told months before the contract expired that if Machinists struck, all production likely would stop and plants would be closed, possibly as long as six months. A couple of weeks later that message softened, but managers still were fearful that they would be out paychecks if a strike developed. That message was passed on to the rank-and-file.

"They put a wig and lipstick on a pig and tried to sell it, but no one was buying," Petroff said.

Prior to the contract vote the Machinists Union was preparing to file unfair labor practice charges against Boeing. The nature of those charges were not disclosed, but Petroff said the union was moving forward with the filing.

Machinists will receive an 8 percent ratification bonus, but second and third-year wage increases won't even cover the rising cost of co-payments for health insurance, prescription drugs and doctors visits, Petroff said. The union wanted to maintain medical benefits at current levels, but Boeing refused. Employees can, however, receive fully-paid insurance, but only if they opt for coverage under Kaiser Permanente.

Meanwhile, nearly 1,500 employees at a Boeing plant in suburban Philadelphia that manufactures Chinook helicopters and Osprey rotocraft planes went on strike Sept. 14. They are members of United Aerospace Workers Local 1069, an affiliate of the United Auto Workers.

And Boeing's second-largest union, the Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, has a contract that expires Dec. 1. During their last contract negotiations in 1999 union members walked out for 40 days before settling.

September 20, 2002 issue

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