Boeing Machinists Go On Strike

5 09 2008

The union that represents machinists at the Boeing Company said Friday that it would go on strike early Saturday, potentially delaying the production of an important new aircraft, the Dreamliner.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace told 27,000 Boeing workers in an e-mail Friday afternoon that “the strike is on.”

The decision came after the two sides failed to reach agreement on a new contract during negotiations in Orlando, Fla., that were supervised by a federal mediator.

The talks moved to Orlando, where the union is holding a national conference, from Seattle, the home of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and many of the company’s production sites.

The union agreed to extend its contract for 48 hours late Wednesday, even though workers voted 87 percent to authorize a strike, and 80 percent to reject Boeing’s last contract offer.

A walkout by machinists in Washington State, Oregon and Kansas would be Boeing’s second in its last two sets of contract talks. Boeing workers spent a month on strike in 2005.

“Despite meeting late into the night and throughout the day, continued contract talks with the Boeing Company did not address our issues,” the union told members in an e-mail message.

The union’s decision Wednesday night to continue talks was met with loud jeers and boos from workers at a meeting where many of them were already toting picket signs. The anger continued throughout Thursday and Friday, prompting the union to send a series of e-mail messages to workers.

“We understand many members are upset over the decision to extend the contract by 48 hours,” an initial message said. “We’ve heard your reaction since last night and listened over the last year. Finally, after your 87 percent vote, the company hears you now.”

In a subsequent e-mail, the union said, “Until further notice, plan to be on strike” early Saturday. “Unless an adequate offer is presented, your vote already cast for strike authorization stands.”

Boeing had no immediate comment on the union’s vow to strike.

The full effect of a walkout would not be felt until next week. But a long strike could cause more delays in the development of the Boeing 787, nicknamed the Dreamliner. The long-range jet, for which Boeing has nearly 900 orders worth at least $3.5 billion, is more than a year late. Analysts estimate that each day the plan is delayed could cost the company $100 million.

Boeing, which announced the plane with fanfare in 2005, now plans to make its first deliveries in the third quarter of 2009 and hopes to conduct the plane’s first test flight before the end of this year. Its major American customer is Northwest Airlines,

Last week, Boeing posted what it called its “best and final offer” on its Web site, and recessed talks to let workers consider the proposal over the Labor Day weekend.

The terms of the three-year contract include an 11 percent raise, up from an earlier offer of 9 percent, for the average machinist, who earns about $27 an hour, or $56,000 a year.

Boeing also proposed an increase in pension financing, as well as a proposal for workers to take on more of their health care expenses.

The union, meanwhile, has pushed for a 13 percent raise and richer pensions. It wants stronger contract language on job security, and is balking at higher medical expenses. The current contract was extended while talks continue.


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