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Boeing's talks with machinists fail

A strike was scheduled to start at factories in Kansas, Washington and Oregon.

September 06, 2008|Julie Johnsson | Chicago Tribune

A last-ditch effort by Boeing Co. to avert a strike by its largest union failed Friday, setting the stage for the second work stoppage at the aerospace giant in three years.

Members of the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, which represents about 27,000 Boeing employees, were slated to walk off the job at factories in Kansas, Washington and Oregon at 12:01 a.m. local time this morning.

The dispute and planned walkout did not involve Boeing workers or operations in Southern California.

The standoff comes as Chicago-based Boeing works to fill a record number of orders for new planes while also struggling to complete the development of its new 787 Dreamliner, which is 18 months behind schedule.

"Over the past two days, Boeing, the union and the federal mediator worked hard in pursuing good-faith explorations of options that could lead to an agreement," said Scott Carson, president of Boeing commercial airplanes. "Unfortunately, the differences were too great to close."

Carson was among the Boeing executives, union leaders and a federal mediator who had been holed up in a Florida hotel since late Thursday. They were attempting to breach differences on outsourcing as well as a host of other issues that union members viewed as givebacks, including greater health insurance co-payments.

"Despite meeting late into the night and throughout the day, continued contract talks with the Boeing Company did not address our issues," said Tom Wroblewski, president of the machinists union's District 751, in a communique to members Friday afternoon.

Members of the union voted overwhelmingly to strike this week, rejecting a contract offer that would have given workers an 11% raise over three years, a $5,000 bonus and additional pension benefits.

Strike preparations were in full gear when union leaders announced that they had agreed to postpone the walkout by 48 hours to meet one final time with Boeing and a federal mediator. The announcement enraged some workers, who believed that their vote had been ignored.

Boeing plans to deliver completed aircraft to customers, as well as spare parts, but it will cease airplane production until the strike ends, spokesman Jim Proulx said. He added that no additional talks had been scheduled.

Analysts estimate that the shuttered lines will cost Boeing between $100 million and $120 million for each day of the strike. They weren't optimistic that the two sides would be able to quickly reconcile their differences. The machinists' 24-day strike in 2005 was relatively short, by Boeing standards, and the two sides have a history of labor strife over the last quarter-century.

"If the strike is a long one, which we believe could be the case, it has serious consequences for Boeing and the industry," wrote analyst Michael Derchin of FTN Midwest Securities Corp.

Wroblewski struck a militant tone in his statement to union members. "If this company wants to talk," he said, "they have my number, they can reach me on the picket line."

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jjohnsson@tribune.com

Los Angeles Times staff writer Peter Pae contributed to this report.

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