SPEEA-Boeing Talks Proceed Following Charges of Company Intimidation

 - October 15, 2012, 12:55 PM
Boeing strictly prohibits unauthorized photography on its property, but SPEEA argues that its photographs of demonstrations within the plant do not show sensitive areas. (Photo: SPEEA)

Negotiations continued between the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) and Boeing last week amid fallout from its white-collar workers’ overwhelming rejection of the company’s first contract offer. The ballot count, conducted on October 1, showed that 95.5 percent of voting SPEEA-represented engineers rejected Boeing’s offer, as did 97 percent of its participating technical workers.

Tensions only heightened after SPEEA filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board on October 5 accusing Boeing officials of videotaping union members engaged in “solidarity” marches, seizing employees’ cameras and deleting photos of their activities during lunchtime rallies in Portland, Oregon; and Everett, Washington.

“Taking video of employees on a lunchtime march is nothing more than intimidation and harassment,” said SPEEA executive director Ray Goforth. Although he acknowledged Boeing’s legitimate interest in protecting intellectual property, Goforth called the company’s methods illegitimate. “It certainly had a chilling effect on people,” he told AIN. “So the legal argument from us is if an activity is protected by federal law–like marching around to support your union–then photographing that activity to share it with other union members is also protected by federal law.”

Asked for comment from management on the allegations, a Boeing spokesman told AIN only that the company does not allow anyone to take photographs on its property unless it issues a camera pass.

Goforth described the sides’ October 10 meeting in Seattle as uneventful and the atmosphere in the room as “guarded.”

“We were trying to gather information for some type of counterproposal and all people who could answer our questions were there but they weren’t allowed to talk,” said Goforth. “After about an hour of that…I pulled the plug.” The sides have scheduled their next bargaining session for this coming Thursday.

Characterized by Goforth as “a breathtaking grab at power,” Boeing’s opening proposal called for various cuts in benefits and the elimination of several contractual guarantees, making what SPEEA calls almost every key element subject to unilateral change by the company. However, between the time negotiators first met following the vote, on October 2, and last Wednesday, Boeing withdrew proposals to allow the company to eliminate retiree medical benefits and add a premium on dental services. It has also withdrawn a proposal to remove the right of union members called for military service to buy extra life and disability insurance.