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Originally published Friday, August 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Machinists to Boeing: Can you hear me now?

At Boeing plants in Auburn, Everett and Renton, Machinists are making a noisy statement to the company as contract talks heat up.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

At Boeing's fabrication plant in Auburn Thursday, salaried staff rushed out of one office area to find out what the almighty racket was.

It was the Machinists, making their voices heard — and doing it extra loudly after supervisors asked them to tone it down.

Whistles pierced the air, tools banged in unison and yells of "Strike! Strike! Strike!" echoed round the production floor.

Later, when second-shift workers started in the afternoon, some added the sounds of elk and duck calls to the general pandemonium, several Machinists said.

The Auburn noise-making, a Machinists tradition every three years at contract time, has been getting progressively louder and more frequent for a couple of weeks.

Now as the talks reach a crescendo — intensive talks started yesterday between union officials and company negotiators sequestered for the next week in the Seatac Doubletree hotel, and the company's initial offer is to be made public today — every hour on the hour the decibel level at Auburn raises the roof.

"You could almost set your watch by it," said one Auburn Machinist, who like other workers interviewed asked not to be named to avoid management retaliation.

He said that just about every union member makes sure to be working at the top of the hour and manages to get very, very busy with whatever tools they have to hand at that moment, in addition to raising their voices.

"It does make a lot of racket," he said.

The noise-making in Auburn began several days ago with Machinists banging their tables with hammers and using air hoses to blow whistles. Management objected and issued instructions to supervisors that no Boeing equipment was to be used for this purpose.

Hence, the progression to yelling, hunting calls, and an undivided attention to using tools and working extra hard for those few minutes.

One Auburn machinist said the action doesn't create any real tension with production line supervisors, because although these supervisors relay the displeasure of management, "they are really with us on this stuff."

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Auburn is not alone, though it does seem to excel among the Boeing plants at protest noise-making. A Boeing spokesman said similar protests have been happening in Renton and Everett.

At lunchtime in Everett on Wednesday, workers marched down the factory aisles yelling "Strike!" Shortly after 5:00 a.m. Friday morning, a group of Machinists coming off night shift marched noisily through the factory, with Boeing security personnel tailing them closely.

This week, Boeing began running radio ads featuring Commercial Airplanes chief Scott Carson speaking directly to rank-and-file Machinists, asking them to follow carefully the progress of the talks.

"Whatever your opinion, it's important to make sure your voice is heard," Carson says in the ad. "Thank you for listening."

The Machinists clearly want him to listen, too.

One union member, talking to IAM district 751 president Tom Wroblewski about the benefits he hopes for from the contract, quipped that he hoped the vision and hearing plans would be better than management's plans — "because they can't see or hear what we really want."

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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