Machinists remain on job at Boeing

Contract votes cast Aug. 29 by members of the Machinists Union employed at Boeing Co. were sealed and not counted after a federal mediator called the sides back to the table in Washington, D.C., starting Sept. 4.

The contract expired at midnight Sept. 1. Machinists last struck Boeing in 1996 for 69 days.

Union negotiators had recommended a "a strong no" vote on the three-year proposal offered by Boeing and a "yes" vote to sanction a strike. A simple majority may accept or reject a contract, but two-thirds must vote for a strike - or the contract automatically takes effect.

The Machinists Union represents about 25,000 workers at Boeing plants in Washington State, Gresham, Ore., and Wichita, Kan. - down from more than 40,000 just three years ago.

About 1,000 Boeing workers in Gresham are represented by Machinists Lodge 63. Their vote took place at the football stadium at Mt. Hood Community College.

"I've been through three of these strikes and this is the worst (contract proposal) I've seen," said Jim Thompson, president of Lodge 63. "At the bargaining table Boeing's attitude has been 'my way or the highway.' "

Bob Petroff, directing business representative of Machinists District Lodge 24, accused the company of "surface bargaining." He told the NW Labor Press he was pleased that federal mediators had called them back to bargain. "I think it's in the best interest of our membership to get back to the table and negotiate an agreement that protects their livelihoods," he said.

However, at presstime Sept. 3, Boeing officials said "they had nothing further to negotiate" and they rejected the mediator's request to extend the present contract for 30 days while talks were ongoing.

The Aug. 29 "order" (that's how union officials referred to it) back to the bargaining table came from Peter J. Hurtgen, the new director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). Republican Hurtgen, a President Clinton appointee to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), recently was named head of the FMCS by President George W. Bush after the National Right-to- Work Committee complained when Bush wanted to make him head of the NLRB.

Hurtgen said a strike could "cause a substantial interruption of commerce." He also asked the Machinists and Boeing to "neither engage in a strike, lockout or last offer implementation" after a bargaining impasse.

After the union agreed to further mediation, Machinists President Thomas Buffenbarger ordered ballots be cast, sealed, locked and not counted ... yet.

Key issues in the talks - which were round-the-clock with a federal mediator the last two weeks of August - are pensions, health care insurance and job security.

Boeing's three-year offer included an 8 percent signing bonus this year, but no raise, followed by raises of 2 percent and 2.5 percent. The Chicago-based company offered to increase pensions by $2 per month for each year of service. And it said worker co-pays for health insurance would start in January 2004 with a changed health care package.

The Machinists sought more generous pensions - it noted Boeing execs retire at pensions that are double their pay - no changes in the health care plan and job security linked to aircraft sales and orders. The company offered reaffirmation of previous contract provisions on subcontracting and offloading - provisions that did not prevent it from cutting tens of thousands of union jobs in the last three years.

If mediation doesn't pan out, union workers could vote again on the offer.

September 6, 2002 issue

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