Leaders from the Society of Professional Engineers in Aerospace (SPEEA) are meeting with engineers and technicians working at various “choke points” within Boeing Commercial Airplanes in the Seattle area and Portland, Oregon, in preparation for a strike as early as February. SPEEA director Ray Goforth told AIN last week that if the company’s approach to contract negotiations doesn’t change dramatically soon after the sides meet again on January 9, the union will send strike ballots to its some 23,000 members employed by Boeing Commercial Airplanes, 96 percent of whom turned down Boeing’s first offer in October.
Apart from meeting with groups of employees critical to maintaining any production flow at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, SPEEA has laid “elaborate” logistical plans in preparation for a walkout, from ensuring Wi-Fi access at picketing locations to supplying portable toilets.
According to Goforth, the sides remain so far apart he doesn’t see any realistic scenario in which they would reach a deal before the union sends strike ballots to its members in January.
“I think there’s a very high likelihood [of a strike],” Goforth told AIN last Thursday, a week after the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service called for a suspension of talks. “We’re really surprised by how disrespectful the company is being. I’d say emotions range from confusion to outrage.”
The emotions, said Goforth, stem from Boeing’s insistence on concessions, most significantly related to pay and medical benefits, during a period of record profits at the company.
“They originally proposed cutting the rate of salary growth by 40 percent,” Goforth said of the Boeing negotiators. “They’ve since come down to 22 percent. They’ve gone from proposing an 18-percent increase in medical costs to 12 percent. We have offered to extend the existing agreement by four years. Basically we’re willing to accept the status quo.”
SPEEA last accepted contract concessions in 2005, when, in Goforth’s words, the company had encountered some difficulties. In 2008, SPEEA won a “modest” improvement over its previous contract.
This time, said Goforth, Boeing has decided to cite the ailing economy in general as its rationale for concessions, and apply the laws of supply and demand to its workforce.
“The company is looking at the skills our people bring as no more than commodities,” said Goforth. “They’re treating people like they would treat any other supplier.”
For its part, Boeing urged SPEEA to concentrate on the core issues.
“We don’t want a strike,” the company said in a statement to AIN. “It’s not good for our employees and it’s not good for the company. We’re confident we can reach an agreement, but we’ll need SPEEA’s team to be focused and engaged on the top three economic elements of the offer (salary, medical and retirement) once we sit back down. If we can get our arms around those elements, everyone can get back to doing what we do best–creating and building airplanes.”