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Boeing, machinists talk under 2-day extension

September 05, 2008|From the Associated Press

SEATTLE — Representatives from Boeing Co. and the machinists union met with a federal mediator Thursday as the clock ticked on an unusual two-day contract extension after union production workers soundly rejected a contract offer and voted to strike.

Members of the union representing 27,000 aircraft assembly workers at the aerospace giant voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to strike for an unprecedented second time in three years, then learned both sides had agreed to a 48-hour contract extension at the request of Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and federal mediators.

Boeing spokesman Tim Healy said Thursday that the mediator was trying to help the labor group and the company find middle ground, but he had no information on the progress of the talks.

"The goal at this point is for us to understand the union's critical few issues and evaluate the situation to see if there is a way to move forward," Healy said. Union spokeswoman Connie Kelliher said its representatives would not comment on the talks while they are underway.

"They want to get the work done at the table, which is where it should have been done all along," she said.

The contract had been set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Thursday before being extended to the same time Saturday morning.

The last-minute move to avert a potentially bruising strike that could cost more than 27,000 workers weeks of pay was met with frustration from rank-and-file members who had voted 80% against the offer and 87% to strike if the offer was rejected, far more than the two-thirds required for a walkout.

Under union rules, anything less than two-thirds approval for a strike meant the offer would have taken effect by default regardless of the vote to reject it.

Chief negotiator Mark Blondin and Tom Wroblewski, president of Machinists District Lodge 751, were repeatedly shouted down at the union hall Wednesday night with catcalls of "Sellout!" and "What was the strike vote for?"

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