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Originally published November 14, 2012 at 8:49 PM | Page modified November 15, 2012 at 12:18 PM

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Boeing, SPEEA union far apart after top-level talks

An impasse is looming in contract talks between Boeing and its white-collar engineering union SPEEA.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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In a secret meeting Tuesday, Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner and the executive director of Boeing’s white-collar union, Ray Goforth, tried to hammer out the framework of an agreement in ongoing contract talks.

But the two sides veered far apart Wednesday, and an impasse is looming.

Members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) — some 23,000 Boeing engineering and technical staff, almost all in the Puget Sound region — may soon be headed toward a second contract vote with the two sides still at loggerheads.

A showdown negotiating session is set for next Tuesday, where according to a person close to the negotiations on the Boeing side, the company will present “all the pieces that will complete our new offer.”

“It will show all the movement we’ve made, as well as all the economics,” the Boeing person said. “It will have all the numbers in it.”

He said Boeing participants in the secret meeting Tuesday viewed the talks as “substantive”and “engaging.”

However, the union team reacted negatively to what they heard of the company’s proposed economic framework. Late Wednesday afternoon, they sent an update to SPEEA members setting expectations for next week’s offer.

“Early indications are that the company will once again propose across-the-board pay and benefit cuts,” the union notice said.

SPEEA’s Goforth said he perceives no movement from management toward the union’s economic demands.

A Boeing offer that is rejected out of hand by SPEEA’s negotiating team could precipitate a second vote of the membership after Thanksgiving.

“I think that’s likely,” said Goforth. “We suspect that the company has abandoned any idea of reaching a deal that our team will endorse.”

Wednesday’s developments are the latest plunge in a roller-coaster ride of negotiations.

SPEEA’s membership voted heavily to reject Boeing’s initial offer in the first vote in early October.

But toward the end of that month, following a meeting that Goforth termed a “breakthrough” at the time, the tone of public remarks turned suddenly positive.

“It really looks like we are on a path to getting there,” Goforth said on Oct. 26, two days after that meeting, though he added that “this still could all fall apart.”

It looks like the process has indeed fallen apart.

In the weeks since then, the union complained that management has addressed only peripheral issues in the bargaining sessions, with “no meaningful dialogue on core economic issues.”

Goforth insisted last week that Boeing must “show me the money.”

Boeing in a statement Wednesday countered that “over the past several weeks” it has worked to address issues raised earlier by the union “without any substantive counterproposals from SPEEA.”

According to the Boeing person close to the talks, the back and forth included two previous attempts — brokered by Gov. Chris Gregoire — to bring Conner, the top executive at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, to the table.

The first two attempts fell through on the union side, he said. But on Tuesday, in the second of two secret meetings of the negotiating teams, the two Rays finally met face to face and Conner showed Goforth at least a glimpse of the money on offer.

A day later, however, the two sides couldn’t even agree on the sequence of events.

The company said it had intended to lay out its offer in a “previously agreed upon negotiation session” Thursday morning.

Goforth said it’s “simply false” that any meeting for Thursday was agreed upon and that a key member of his team will be out of state that day.

The union turned down that meeting. Instead, it issued its media release negatively characterizing the likely offer and set the session for next Tuesday.

The Boeing person close to the talks dismissed this behavior as union “gamesmanship.”

SPEEA called on its members to show their dissatisfaction with the lack of progress by boycotting voluntary overtime and “working-to-rule” — which means slowing down production by strict adherence to workplace rules on operational and safety matters.

Goforth said it’s “extremely unlikely” the union would call a strike before the new year — for practical reasons.

“The company shuts down half of December,” he said. “There’d be no economic harm, which is the point of a strike.”

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

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