Updated Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 11:46 PM
In contract talks with its engineering union, Boeing on Thursday rejected a series of union counterproposals to its latest offer and requested mediation by a federal agency to try to move the stalled negotiations forward.
Officials of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) are considering the request, which came at the end of the third bargaining session this week.
“The differences between the parties are still significant, and this was clearly reinforced during today’s conversation,” Boeing said in a statement. “We hope the expertise of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) can help move the two sides toward a resolution.”
SPEEA spokesman Bill Dugovich said the move by Boeing’s negotiators came as a a surprise, summarily ending the meeting.
“The company abruptly stopped the discussion, and made this suggestion,” said Dugovich. “Then they got up and left.”
The union issued a statement telling its members that employers typically invoke mediation because “they do not see a path to achieve their goals during negotiations.”
Following talks that began in earnest in the summer, the company’s initial offer was rejected decisively in an Oct. 1 ballot of the union’s 23,000 members.
On Nov. 20, the company laid out a series of improvements to that offer. The union rejected those and came up with its own counterproposals.
Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said the company explained to the union Thursday that “every part of their counterproposal was too high.”
“The past couple of weeks, as well as today, were very frustrating,” said Alder. “It really became clear at the end of the day just how far apart we are.”
The differences on pay and pensions are clear.
Boeing’s new offer includes wage increases for its engineers of 4.5, 4, 4.5 and 4 percent in four successive years of a contract.
The offer gives other technical staff wage increases of 3.5, 3, 3.5 and 3 percent.
The union’s counterproposal was that both groups get 6 percent each year in a three-year contract.
On pensions, Boeing offered to move the basic monthly benefit per year of service to $85, $87, $89 and $91 in successive years of a four-year contract.
The SPEEA counterproposal was to raise the benefit figure over three years to $87, $93 and $99.
The two sides also disagree on the amount of cost-shifting to employees in the company health plan, although SPEEA has not yet given a formal counterproposal on that issue.
A union statement sent to members Thursday complained that Boeing had simply rejected SPEEA’s counterproposals without making another offer.
Typically, outside mediators try to move two parties toward a number somewhere in between the opposing poles on each economic issue that separates them.
Alder said management called for mediation because it fears SPEEA is locked into its position.
“It’s time to bring in somebody that can get both sides moving towards each other,” said Alder.
Ray Goforth, SPEEA’s executive director, said Thursday afternoon that the union will “almost certainly” agree to some form of mediation, but added that “whether we would agree to any formal mediation structure, I’m not sure.”
He said the union spoke twice Thursday afternoon with FMCS’s Seattle mediator, Rick Oglesby, to discuss what might work.
Mediation will likely delay the calling of a second vote, to allow time to see if the process can help breach the logjam in negotiations.
Realistically, the two sides have until the new year before a strike would be called.
Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org