October 3, 2008 Volume 109 Number 19

Turbulence continues between IAM, Boeing

No new negotiations between Boeing Company and striking Machinists were planned as this issue of the NW Labor Press went to press, although a federal mediator has been in daily contact with both sides.

Some 27,000 Machinists at locations in Washington State’s Puget Sound; Wichita, Kansas; Edwards Air Force Base, California; and Gresham, Oregon, walked off the job Sept. 6 after the company refused to make contract improvements in the areas of job security, medical costs, pensions and wage increases for both newer and longer-term workers.

Portland-based Lodge 63 represents 1,244 Machinists at Boeing’s parts manufacturing plant in Gresham. To date, only one person has crossed the picket line.

This week Lodge 63 members began receiving weekly checks of $150 from the international union and $80 from the local. They also have been directed to file for unemployment insurance.

And as the strike drags on, international labor federations representing millions of workers around the world began weighing in with expressions of support for workers involved in the dispute.

Letters of solidarity have come in from 22 union federations in Europe, Australia, Denmark, Italy, Spain and elsewhere.

“We will do everything we can to ensure this company and others are under no illusions that if you take on organized labour, wherever that may be, you take us on internationally,” said Steve Turner, national secretary of the London-based Transport Ground Workers Union.

On Sept. 20, Machinists District Lodge 24 hosted a rally and barbecue at the front gate of the plant in Gresham. More than 200 people attended, including the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Jeff Merkley; Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian; State Rep. Diane Rosenbaum; Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain; IAM Western Territory General Vice President Lee Pearson; Aerospace Coordinator Mark Blondin, and retired IAM Aerospace Coordinator Dick Schneider.

“This is power. This is what the union movement is about,” said Chamberlain, a member of Portland Fire Fighters Local 43. “And frankly, it is what’s scaring the hell out of corporate America. I’m so proud of you for standing up and holding your ground.”

Before the strike began, Boeing had a backlog of more than 3,600 orders valued at $346 billion. According to the Seattle Times, Wall Street analysts estimate that at the one-month mark, the strike will have cost Boeing at least $1.3 billion in profits.

“I think Boeing is allowing their vendors and suppliers to get caught up at the expense of their own employees,” said Bob Petroff, directing business representative of Machinists District Lodge 24 in Portland. “Boeing has outsourced work around the globe, which only justifies our need for job security language in this contract.”

The strike is the second in as many contracts; IAM members struck the company for 28 days in 2005.

The union has filed multiple unfair labor practice complaints against Boeing and, in fact, this is an unfair labor practice strike and not an economic strike. One of the complaints before the National Labor Relations Board charges Boeing with directly dealing with workers. Federal labor law requires employers to bargain exclusively with its employees’ designated union representatives.

The NLRB is still investigating the complaints and had not set a hearing date as of press time.

Meantime, the union has directed striking members to file for unemployment insurance. If denied, members are asked to appeal. If the ULP chargers are upheld, striking Machinists will be eligible for the insurance benefits.

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