Machinists weigh what they gained in eight-week Boeing strike
Boeing's agreement to job security protections is "the major achievement" of the proposed contract, says Machinists district President Tom Wroblewski. But the compensation improvements over the company's pre-strike offer won't make up for the wages lost in the eight-week walkout.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
The Machinists strike, the fourth in two decades of mostly bitter relations between Boeing and the union, will likely end Sunday after 58 days out.
After a ratification vote Saturday, workers could begin returning to their jobs on the next evening's late shift.
A sample of Machinists contacted Tuesday were all ready to vote for the contract, figuring the deal reached after five days of talks in Washington, D.C., is the best they can get.
As they prepare to go back, though, they may be asking what the union has won beyond what it was offered in September. And both sides must weigh the long-term impacts of a strike that has left their relationship more frayed than ever.
Tom Wroblewski, District 751 president of the International Association of Machinists (IAM), conceded that for many members, the lump-sum bonuses and compensation increases will not make up all the money lost during eight weeks on strike.
Not just money
But it wasn't just about money, he said. His members sacrificed money now to win some job security for future workers.
"It's always about the next generation," Wroblewski said, "The previous generations did it for us."
Wroblewski also emphasized that Boeing added a significant pay increase for lower-paid Machinists — those with less than six years of service — and relented on increasing employees' costs for medical plans.
But the improvements in job security are "the major achievement of the deal," Wroblewski said.
"We have prevented external suppliers from coming in to our factories and doing jobs that IAM members have done."
Wroblewski said he was schooled about strikes by old-timers after he joined the company in 1978.
"They said (that) going out, very seldom will you ever get back what you lost," he said. "But you gain and you build for the future."
And he recalled meeting a recently hired Machinist on the picket line this month whose father still works at Boeing and who remembered having a meager Christmas in 1995 because of the 69-day strike that year.
The Machinist told him that he benefits today from his dad's strike then — and now it was his turn.
The outsourcing issue derailed an earlier attempt to resolve the strike, which began Sept. 6.
The proposed new four-year contract limits the outsourcing of Boeing work to external vendors.
Those vendors can bring parts into the factory close to the airplane assembly lines, but must then hand them over to IAM members.
Boeing maintains the deal largely preserves the status quo and will still allow factory managers to make changes for efficiency.
"There is nothing in this contract that impairs our ability to deliver parts in the factory, including right up to the airplane," said spokesman Tim Healy.
The limitation on vendors delivering parts does not apply to the 787, where a nonunion vendor delivers all the parts.
Nor does it apply to any military programs. Wroblewski said the same restriction will apply to future airplane programs.
The deal also offers job protection for some 5,000 current workers in parts delivery and facilities maintenance. They are assured they will not be laid off due to outsourcing.
Right to bid
And it gives the union a new right to bid for work being considered for transfer to a nonunion Boeing facility.
This could become important if, say, Boeing decided it wanted to move more 787 work to San Antonio, Texas — a nonunion location already assigned to do any necessary changes on some of the early production airplanes.
The union also won concessions on the company medical plans.
Many Machinists were incensed in September about proposed increased employee costs in the plan, calling them unwarranted "take-aways."
Boeing spokesman Tim Healy said "those cost increases were not large," and the company removed them from the new contract.
The extra compensation in the new contract comes almost all in the fourth year that was added, in a shift from the Machinists' usual three-year deals.
Those are gains that might have been expected in a follow-on contract anyhow.
Machinists currently earn an average of $54,000 base pay a year, or $65,000 with overtime.
The average hourly wage is $26, though those with less than six years' service earn much less.
With the new contract, Machinists will get a 15 percent wage increase over four years.
At the lower end of the wage ladder, the starting wage for new hires goes up to $15 an hour from the current $12.72, just as in the September proposal.
The new deal adds an additional $1 an hour for those with between two and six years' service, who would otherwise have gained less from the contract than new hires. That should be worth between $2,000 and $2,500 a year in each of the four years to that group.
The new contract revises the lump-sum bonuses offered earlier; lower-paid workers would have gotten bigger bonuses had the union ratified the September offer, but higher-paid ones do better with the new offer.
Joe Albanese, 44, who works as a parts deliverer in Everett, said he'll vote for the deal, if there are no surprises in the details, because the contract holds the line on parts outsourcing that could affect him directly.
"They want to get rid of us," he said. "At least we've stopped them for four years."
Jim Levitt, 55, a high-level machinist at Boeing's research center in Seattle, has mixed feelings but also is inclined to vote yes.
He wants to see the outsourcing clause and make sure it's "solid language" that will truly protect jobs, he said.
And with the supplemental pay for more recent hires and a 10 percent bonus for veterans, he said, "there's a little something in there for everyone."
Leaders back approval
The IAM leadership is recommending its 27,000 members accept the deal.
Levitt said that a yes vote seems inevitable, in part because of the economic and financial crisis.
"We went out on strike (Sept. 6) and things were OK," Levitt said. "A week later the world fell apart. We got hit by that whirlwind. Anybody watching the news is bound to be worried."
Wroblewski also said the financial crisis hindered a more generous outcome.
"It certainly had an effect on the company," he said.
The bargaining ended, according to both sides, with handshakes and congratulations on a tough fight.
"Let's get back to building airplanes," one negotiator said.
Boeing's chief negotiator, Doug Kight, said that the meeting in D.C. included "good discussion" and that Boeing will work with the IAM.
"We are committed to improving the relationship," Kight said.
There's plenty of room for improvement.
A top company executive warned earlier this month that the pattern of strikes endangers future airplane work for this region.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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