Machinists ratify contract at Boeing

Some 18,400 Machinists Union members in Washington, Oregon and Kansas voted Sept. 29 by a better than 80 percent margin to approve a new three-year contract with the Boeing Company and end their 28-day strike.

Approximately 900 workers at the parts plant in Gresham are represented by Machinists Lodge 63. They, too, accepted the offer by more than 80 percent. After the vote, members tore down their strike shack on Sandy Blvd., and began returning to work on the evening of Sept. 29. Under the new contract, employees don’t have to report back to work until Oct. 12.

The company agreed to change the terms of its last offer — which was rejected Sept. 1 by an 86 percent margin — to meet worker demands for higher pension benefits and no increases in out-of-pocket costs for medical coverage, union officials said.

“You stood up and said ‘no’ to corporate greed,” said Dick Schneider, aerospace coordinator for the International Association of Machinists. “We hope this is a wake-up call to corporate America.”

“On every major issue — from health insurance and pension to retiree medical and team leader, our members’ solidarity forced Boeing to change their offer,” said Mark Blondin, president of IAM District 751 in Seattle. “We have shown the American people we can stand up and get a multi-national corporation to do the right thing.”

The Seattle Times reported that Boeing hired former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt to mediate a settlement. Secret talks took place Sept. 23 in Washington, D.C., and a tentative deal was announced Sept. 25.

The Machinists Union endorsed Gephardt for president last year in the Democratic primary. He is a former congressman from St. Louis, Mo.

With Gephardt in the room, Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Alan Mulally and lead negotiator Jerry Calhoun bargained directly with Blondin, Machinists International President Thomas Buffenbarger, and Schneider, who is a member of Portland Lodge 63.

Prior to that, the company had received letters urging a return to bargaining from Oregon Congressmen David Wu, Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer, and from Washington Governor Christine Gregoire.

“The new agreement supports our business plan and addresses the key issues raised by IAM-represented employees and the union,” said Mulally.

Terms of the contract include:
• Increasing the pension benefit to $70 per month per year of service, up from the existing $60 a month and $66 a month in the rejected offer.
• Maintaining existing health care plans and co-pays of the Machinists previous contract — saving members between $2,000 and $4,000 per year in out-of-pocket expenses.
• Guaranteeing new hires will get the same retiree medical benefits as current workers.
• Keeping retiree medical the same as the current contract. Boeing backed off a proposal to eliminate retiree medical for new hires, as well as a proposal to have those under 50 earn the coverage back at 3-1/3 percent per year.
• Restoring medical layoff benefit to six months. Earlier offer would have reduced it to three months.
• A 12 cent cost-of-living-adjustment, which was generated last quarter and was due Sept. 2, 2005. Hourly wage rates range from $24.28 for Grade 1 to $33.83 for Grade 11.
• An 8 percent ratification bonus, or about $5,200 per employee; plus a $3,000 lump sum payment on Dec. 1 2006 and on Dec. 1, 2007.
The agreement does not contain any hourly wage increases or language protecting jobs, and it eliminates a 401(k) match. Boeing withdrew its proposal on simultaneous multiple machine operation and removed its demand to eliminate the Wichita plant from the economic package.

“Since the 1990s, no union in North America has held the line on health care and retiree medical — costs that have risen dramatically. Our members did just that in this strike,” Blondin said.

“The overwhelming unity and solidarity of the Machinist Union membership won this strike,” said Bob Petroff, directing business representative of Machinists District Lodge 24 in Portland.

Rick Bender, president of the Washington State Labor Council, called it, “a tremendous victory not just for the striking Boeing employees, but for all American workers.”

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