September 19, 2008 Volume 109 Number 18

Job security key issue in Boeing Machinists strike

Nearly 27,000 Machinists who assemble commercial airplanes and components at Boeing plants in Washington, Oregon and Kansas walked off the job Sept. 6 after voting by an 87 percent margin to reject the company’s “last, best and final” offer and to strike.

Approximately 1,244 workers are members of Portland-based Machinists Lodge 63 employed at the Boeing plant at 19000 NE Sandy Blvd., Gresham. Another 24,500 workers are members of Machinists District Lodge 751 in the Everett, Washington area, and 1,000 belong to District Lodge 70 in Wichita, Kansas.

The strike is an unfair labor practice strike, and not an economic strike, although economics were certainly a reason workers voted to walk out.

“Boeing treated this almost like an organizing campaign,” said Bob Pet-roff, directing business representative of District Lodge 24 in Portland. “They held captive audience meetings. They attempted to negotiate with our members. We have filed several unfair labor practice charges against them.”

The charges were filed with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Boeing tried to circumvent the union’s bargainers through “direct dealing” one-on-one negotiations with workers — which is illegal.

Because it is an unfair labor practice strike, Boeing cannot hang over workers’ heads the threat of hiring permanent replacements if the dispute lingers on.

Talks broke down over a variety of issues, including contracting out work to nonunion shops and overseas, elimination of spousal survivor pension benefits, plus higher out-of-pocket health care and prescription drug costs, most of which would have offset the proposed raises and bonuses. On the table at the time of the strike, Boeing had offered an 11 percent pay hike over three years, a pension increase, plus a signing bonus of $2,500.

However, due to the way the last contract was structured, Boeing didn’t cover a 40 cent cost-of-living-adjustment that was due in September to all workers. That COLA, according to union officials, calculates out to about $2,496 per employee — almost the exact amount of the “bonus” offered in their last proposal.

Local 63 members on the picket line in Gresham told the NW Labor Press that they have not received a wage increase (other than COLAs) over the last two contract periods (six years). “Now, the company is making record profits and they still want to take away from us,” said Steve Gentry, a 22-year employee. “They really have no respect for what we do.”

Petroff said the Machinists proposal penciled out at a cost of $94.3 million over three years. “Boeing has back orders and stands to lose $100 million a day every day we are not working. How much sense does that make?” he said.

According to the New York Times, Boeing earned a record $4.1 billion in 2007. The newspaper also reported the company has a backlog of more than 3,600 orders valued at $263 billion. The majority of those aircraft are versions of the popular Boeing 737.

Boeing plants will remain open during the strike, but nothing will be manufactured. Under the terms of its collective bargaining agreement with Boeing, members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) are prohibited from honoring another union’s picket line. But the union is distributing “I Support IAM” signs for employees to display in vehicles and at work. The union also is telling members to decline management requests to perform Machinists work and to notify the union if it does. SPEEA represents 21,515 Boeing employees in Washington, Oregon, Utah, Kansas and California. Its labor contracts expire Dec. 1, 2008.

In Oregon, Teamsters Joint Council No. 37 has sanctioned the strike and will not deliver to the Gresham plant, which manufactures landing gear beams, flight control columns, and gear boxes, among other parts. The Northwest Oregon Labor Council also has sanctioned the strike and called for a boycott.

At the Machinists convention in Florida earlier this month, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Gerald McEntee said his union would send $100,000 to help strikers. Strike benefits are $150 a week.

Machinists struck for 24 days in 2005 before getting a contract. A labor dispute in 1995 lasted for 69 days and affected 32,000 employees.

In 2002, workers took major concessions because of 9-11 and the economic impact it had on the United States. The Machinists actually voted down the contract, but then failed to muster a two-thirds majority that the union’s constitution requires in order to strike. When the strike vote failed, the rejected contract automatically was implemented. It was that contract that opened the door for more contracting out of work.

This year, workers voted by an 80 percent margin to reject the contract — and by an 87 percent margin to strike.

Some members were upset when the union — at the request of federal mediators and Washington State Gov. Chris Gregoire — agreed to extend the contract for 48 hours to try to reach a settlement. That failed and the strike began Sept. 6.

Pickets in Gresham told the Labor Press that the regressive contract language “has made us a whole lot stronger. We’re ready to stay out three, four, five months. One day longer than Boeing.”

“Corporate America is sticking it to the working man. We’re taking a stand for all workers,” Gentry said.

Tom Gobel, a 20-year employee, said elimination of the spousal survivor benefit and the reduction in retiree medical were the reasons he voted to strike.

“I came back for one more contract. Now they want to take my retirement away,” he said. “We watch them gut the contract year after year. We don’t trust them. They don’t walk their talk.”

At the union’s international convention in Florida held earlier this month, Machinists Western Territory Vice President Lee Pearson told delegates that Boeing came to the table with takeaways, “just like they did in 2005.”

As an example, Boeing again tried cutting Wichita members out of the bargaining process, and the company introduced a “two-tiered” fringe benefits package for new hires. Both items were bargained out of the deal.

Pearson said the move this year “was both unnecessary and arrogant in lieu of their record profits and remarkable backlog” of orders for the 787 Dreamliner.

Pearson said the company “tried to circumvent our negotiators and bargained themselves into a strike instead of what could have been an industry-leading agreement that would have propelled both Boeing and our members forward for the next three years.”

IAM President Tom Buffenbarger says the issue of job security is critical to workers. He told the Wall Street Journal: “It’s time for Boeing to listen to us on this. The union just wants to be able to have a shot at making the case that our workers can do those jobs competitively before Boeing ships them out.”

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