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Updated Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 08:10 AM

Engineering union slams second Boeing proposal

By Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Boeing on Tuesday presented a new contract offer to its white-collar union that bumps up the wage increases proposed in its initial offer in September and makes other improvements to that original proposal.

But the union leadership swiftly dismissed the improved offer as not good enough.

Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), said the union negotiating team is likely to reject the offer.

A new vote of the 23,000-strong membership could come soon after Thanksgiving, along with a vote on authorizing a strike.

“This is once again across-the-board pay and benefit cuts,” said Goforth.

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said the offer provides pay and pension increases, not cuts.

“We’ve always said it was going to take movement from both sides,” said Boeing spokesman Doug Alder, “Today, we made a significant move.”

“The new proposals are a marked increase over the initial offer. It’s our full intent to negotiate from there,” he added. “The ball really is in SPEEA’s court at this point.”

The union negotiating team’s message to its members argued that the new offer doesn’t measure up to the generous increases in the previous, 2008 contract.

“We are disappointed in The Boeing Company’s language which deceptively describes cuts from our current contract as ‘improvements’,” the statement said. “There is no reason for cuts during periods of extreme profitability.”

The union told its members that the new offer contains “only marginal improvements to the offers engineers and technical workers rejected by 95.5% and 97% last month.”

Even if a strike vote is called, negotiations would certainly continue, with no strike before the new year at the earliest.

Indeed, the two sides agreed to meet Wednesday, in advance of the Thanksgiving break.

Goforth said the union wants to meet immediately to clarify where exactly the company stands in the process.

He said the SPEEA team didn’t get a full contract document Tuesday, just details of changes to the previous pay and medical- benefit proposals and Boeing’s statement that the previous proposal on pensions hasn’t changed. Goforth said the members can’t vote until they see the full contract.

Though the two sides will continue to talk, SPEEA’s message to members signaled an aggressive response in negotiations.

“It is becoming clear Boeing corporate will need additional persuasion,” the message read. “Our teams encourage members to continue workplace actions, including refusing to work voluntary overtime and other ‘work-to-rule’ actions to bring pressure on Boeing corporate.”

Boeing’s new offer includes wage increases for its engineers of 4.5, 4, 4.5 and 4 percent in the four successive years of the contract.

The offer gives other technical staff wage increases of 3.5, 3, 3.5 and 3 percent.

The 2008 contract provided 5 percent wage increases each year for both groups.

Boeing also has removed language changes in the original offer that had riled the SPEEA membership because it eliminated phrasing that guaranteed certain benefits.

Boeing said it responded to those concerns “by either amending or withdrawing the vast majority of those proposals.”

The new offer retains a shift in retirement benefits. New hires would be given a 401(K) savings plan rather than the current defined-benefit pension.

The union claims the terms of the 401(k) plan would reduce benefits upon retirement by 40 percent.

As in Boeing’s original offer, the new proposal still shifts some health-benefit costs to the employees, with higher deductibles and co-pays.

However, Boeing said the cost shifts are lower than in the September offer.

Goforth, in a message to union representatives Tuesday morning and in an interview, insisted Boeing’s offer amounts to cuts in overall compensation, despite the offered wage and pension hikes.

He said the 401(k) for new hires is “a clear cut” compared to the current pension plan. He said the growth of the pension formula for existing employees is “an increase, but it’s a two-thirds cut in the rate of increase.”

And likewise, he said, the pay raises represent “a cut in the rate of growth” compared to higher historical pay raises.

Boeing management, meanwhile, told employees the improved offer will “reward you for your contributions, while still allowing the company and our workforce to remain competitive for future work.”

“We now hope to engage your SPEEA negotiations team in a meaningful dialogue,” the company’s message said.

But even as Boeing presented its new offer, SPEEA on Tuesday filed a new unfair-labor-practice charge against Boeing with the National Labor Relations Board.

The union’s complaint alleges that Boeing threatened to discipline workers who sent emails to SPEEA about layoff notices, and also claims that during the negotiations Boeing refused to provide necessary data.

Goforth said a strike authorization vote would likely be called on the basis of the unfair-labor-practice charge.

Striking on that basis provides the union extra legal protections — for example, the company cannot hire replacement workers — compared to a strike based solely on the economic terms of a contract offer.

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


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