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Boeing Machinists' Strike Vote Falls Short

September 15, 2002|From Associated Press

SEATTLE — A strike vote by Boeing Co.'s largest union failed, averting a walkout at the world's largest aircraft maker.

Leaders of the machinists union had urged members to approve the strike, saying they had grave concerns about job security. But only 61% of the members voted in favor of the walkout, short of the necessary two-thirds.

The union represents 25,000 workers in Washington state; Wichita, Kan.; and Portland, Ore. It held the vote Thursday and Friday, and announced the results Friday night.

Separately, workers at Boeing's suburban Philadelphia helicopter plant went on strike early Saturday for the first time in 28 years after last-minute contract talks failed to produce an agreement before a midnight deadline.

Company officials met with negotiators for Local 1069 of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, but no agreement was reached covering the approximately 1,400 workers.

The machinists union voted on two questions: whether to approve Boeing's contract offer, made Aug. 27, and whether to strike. Union bylaws dictate that unless two-thirds of members vote to strike, a contract offer is automatically accepted.

Members said the key sticking point was job security--an especially sensitive point over the last year. After the Sept. 11 attacks, which devastated the airline industry, Chicago-based Boeing slashed production and announced it would lay off 30,000 workers.

The layoffs claimed 25% of the union's membership.

Alan Mulally, head of Boeing's commercial airplane division, said things could get tougher for the company.

Boeing may have to further cut production, and possibly jobs, because U.S. airlines haven't recovered as quickly as expected, he said.

The machinists had been working without a contract since Sept. 1, when their three-year agreement expired. The average wage under the old contract was about $50,000 a year.

The new contract includes an 8% ratification bonus, wage increases of 2% and 2.5% in the second and third years, and a 20% boost in monthly pension payments by the third year.

The contract increases health-care costs for many employees. But the biggest concerns for union leaders were what they described as attacks on job security. Boeing refused to tie employment levels to aircraft deliveries or other indicators of the industry's health.

According to the union, a strike would cost members an estimated $28.1 million in pay each week, with the majority of the damage in Washington's Puget Sound region.

"Our people are good people, but they're caught in a tough situation," said Mark Blondin, president of the union's Seattle-based District 751.

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