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Originally published August 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 18, 2008 at 1:09 PM

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Boeing, Machinist head into final negotiations this week

On Thursday an odd local ritual returns when Boeing and Machinists union officials lock themselves in a SeaTac hotel for 10 long days and nights to negotiate the terms of a new contract.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Machinists-union contract history

During the past two decades

The record is three strikes, one near-strike and two contracts passed by majority vote.

2005: One-month strike. The union won a 17 percent pension increase and held steady their health-care contributions. The company backed off from reductions to benefits.

2002: Strike narrowly averted. A majority of union members voted against the company offer, but only 61 percent — short of the two-thirds needed — voted to strike in the middle of a downturn. Workers had to pay a bigger share of health costs.

1999: Contract approved by 89 percent of the members. The company needed the Machinists to pull it out of the ongoing production crisis. Boeing delivered a record 620 planes. Health premiums were held down and wages increased.

1995: A 69-day strike lasted well into December. The Machinists won significant gains on job security, medical benefits and wages.

1992: Contract approved. The airline industry was ailing and Boeing's orders and production schedule were weak.

1989: A 48-day strike. Machinists got a 10 percent wage increase and won a 19 percent bonus over three years.

Source: Seattle Times archives

Boeing and the IAM

CONTRACT 2008 POSITIONS

Boeing negotiations Web site: www.boeing.com/2008negotiations/

IAM union negotiations Web site: www.iam751.org/contract08.htm

On Thursday an odd local ritual returns when Boeing and Machinists union officials lock themselves in a SeaTac hotel for 10 long days and nights to negotiate the terms of a new contract.

"It's a lockdown," said International Association of Machinists (IAM) leader Tom Wroblewski, comparing the SeaTac Doubletree to the "Hotel California," where "you can never leave."

"It's not quite as enjoyable as the song," said Wroblewski, who took office last year and for the first time leads the union side in the contract talks.

Boeing and the IAM each have booked blocks of rooms. Subcommittees will meet late into the night and the principals may take calls at all hours for consulting or signing off on interim agreements.

"This is a very tense, emotional process," said Doug Kight, Boeing's top labor negotiator, who took the post in 2006 and is also new at the head of his side. "You are always drained when you are done."

The process, which occurs every three years, will determine whether 26,000 Machinists, most of them in the Puget Sound region, will go back to work with a new contract after a vote Sept. 3, or strike for the fourth time in the last two decades.

In exclusive interviews, the two leaders acknowledged an urgent need to move past the bad history between company and union.

But the pressure on each to deliver is intense.

"Boeing has been successful and employees deserve to share in that success," conceded Kight. "We also need to make sure we can sustain that success. ... There must be a bottom line."

And when Wroblewski meets IAM members these days, the constant question isn't about whether there will be a strike.

"They ask: 'How long are we going to be on strike?' " said Wroblewski.

His standard response: "My job is to negotiate you a contract, not negotiate a strike."

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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