Boeing Machinists strike; 27,000 workers test company's final offer
The frustration had been pent up inside Boeing Machinists for an extra 48 hours since they voted overwhelmingly to strike on Wednesday. At midnight Friday, all that...
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Machinists on strikeAbout 27,000 total at four locations
Edwards Air Force Base, California
The frustration had been pent up inside Boeing Machinists for an extra 48 hours since they voted overwhelmingly to strike on Wednesday.
At midnight Friday, all that anger was released — 27,000 workers officially were headed on strike, pickets went up at factory gates starting in the Central time zone at the Wichita plant, and production of Boeing jets ceased.
The delayed start of the strike came after the failure of a last-ditch bargaining effort between top union leaders and Boeing executives at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort hotel in Orlando, Fla.
Speaking on the phone from the hotel soon after the talks ended, Mark Blondin, national aerospace coordinator for the International Association of Machinists (IAM), said that the union negotiating team decided at about 6 p.m. Florida time Friday that the talks were going nowhere.
"We just didn't get to a place where we could reach an agreement," Blondin said. "We tried to exhaust every avenue.
"We met with the mediator last night and all day today," he said. "There was no formal offer to bring back to the members. ... There's nothing to bring back."
Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Scott Carson said in a statement: "Unfortunately, the differences were too great to close."
Machinists voted last Wednesday to reject Boeing's final offer with an 80 percent majority. An even bigger majority — 87 percent — authorized a strike. On Thursday and Friday, production in the factories was sluggish as many machinists called in sick or slowed their work pace.
The union already had all its picket signs ready for a strike, as well as the metal burn barrels used to contain fires that will keep pickets warm through the nights ahead.
About 25,000 Machinists in Boeing's factories around Puget Sound, some 1,200 in Portland, 700 in Wichita, Kan., and about 70 at Edwards Air Force Base in California are striking. Boeing employees not represented by the IAM are expected to report for work as usual.
Boeing spokesman Tim Healy said the company will deliver completed airplanes, but "we don't intend to assemble airplanes during the strike."
The issues, the anger
Union officials had a long list of issues with the final offer from Boeing: inadequate compensation increases, especially for workers lower down on the wage ladder; an insufficient pension increase; costs added to the medical-benefits plan; and refusal to commit to reducing outsourcing of future work from local factories.
Many of the union's rank and file also are angry at Blondin for delaying the strike two days. From Florida, he defended his decision to give the company the extra time.
"We got a great mandate from our members," said Blondin. "We were offered this opportunity to try one more time to get movement on our four major issues: job security, wages, pension and health care. ... I took a chance on behalf of our members.
"It's always worthwhile trying when you've got 27,000 families, if you can get a deal done quickly for them," he said. "I'd hate for them weeks down the road to say, 'You had a chance to talk further and you refused.' "
The announcement of the delay Wednesday night caused an immediate explosion of anger at the union meeting in South Seattle. Militant Machinists shouted abuse at Blondin and at his co-negotiator, IAM District 751 President Tom Wroblewski.
Since then, rank-and-file Machinists who had expected to be on strike expressed confusion and anger as they awaited an outcome.
Two days of disruptions
As many as 30 percent of the workers stayed home, according to workers in the plants. And many of those who showed up did less work than usual — either hampered by the absence of support or because they worked strictly to contract rules. They also continued the weeks-long protests of noise-making every hour and marching down the aisles on breaks.
"They might as well have been on strike," said Michael Spears, a team leader on the 777 program and an IAM member. "Production for the last two days has been almost nonexistent."
The ugly mood was heightened Friday afternoon when a bomb threat emptied a building at the Auburn parts plant. The bomb squad was called after a suspicious package wrapped in duct tape was discovered in a restroom, an IAM official in Auburn said. Some 90 workers were sent home before the package was determined to be a hoax.
There was no indication of who was responsible or that it was strike-related.
"They have my number"
Gov. Christine Gregoire, who called both sides several times in the past week to urge agreement, issued a statement calling the talks' breakdown "unfortunate."
"Boeing and its work force are a critical part of the health of the state economy," Gregoire said. "I urge both parties to continue working on a resolution and settle the strike as quickly as possible. I will continue to monitor the situation closely."
But the strike has the makings of a long one.
Machinists are convinced that Boeing has plenty of money to share and cannot afford to shut down jet production lines that until Wednesday were working hard to fill orders that stretch out seven years. Many Machinists have long planned and saved for an extended strike. "My strike fund is up to where I can go at least three months," said Spears.
Yet Boeing seems determined to contain its costs. And the more than $10 billion in cash Boeing had accumulated as of last quarter can be seen as a corporate strike fund.
As the strike began, each side expressed a willingness to listen — if the other side has anything to say.
"We're open to meeting the union," said Boeing spokesman Healy.
"If [Boeing] wants to talk, they have my number, they can reach me on the picket line," said the IAM's Wroblewski.
No meetings are scheduled.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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