Updated Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 12:16 AM
Boeing’s engineering union has begun making detailed preparations for a strike that could come as soon as February, the executive director of the union said Friday.
“I think there is a very high chance of a strike,” said Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA).
His warning came during a break in the talks, which this week were suspended at the request of federal mediators until January — supposedly a “cooling-off period.”
Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said the company doesn’t want a strike and that “this rhetoric is not doing anybody any good.”
But Goforth insisted that the strike talk is more than rhetoric.
He said the union has done a budgeting exercise to estimate the funds needed to support a 60-day strike, but, if needed, it can fund a strike for “many multiples” of 60 days.
The union this week trained 150 “picket captains” who will be responsible for scheduling shifts on picket lines at Boeing’s factories around the region, Goforth said.
And he said his team has begun to work on details of strike logistics, such as how many portable toilets will be needed at picket points; how many vans to shuttle between them; and whether the union needs supplemental liability insurance for van drivers or pickets at burn barrels.
When federal mediators announced the suspension of negotiations, it seemed some quiet progress could be made in the background over the season of goodwill.
That doesn’t appear likely.
Rick Oglesby, a mediator with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) who participated in the talks this week, said there’ll be no substantive mediation during the break.
“It’s a period of time for each side to consider where they are at,” said Oglesby.
But Goforth isn’t sitting still for quiet reflection.
The mediators “pressed the ‘pause’ button. But nothing’s changed,” Goforth said. “When we hit the ‘play’ button in January, we’ll be plunged right back in the same situation, which is a pretty bad spot.”
He said negotiations likely won’t resume until the second week of January. He expects that a deadlock will be apparent, and “very soon in January” the union will call a vote to authorize a strike.
Assuming union members provide that authorization, another period of negotiation would follow, with an expectation that Boeing might improve its latest offer.
If that fails to bridge the divide, Goforth said, a strike could begin as early as Feb. 1.
The company’s initial offer was rejected in an Oct. 1 ballot of the union’s 23,000 members, who are mostly in the Puget Sound region with small pockets in Oregon, Utah and California.
Boeing’s Alder declined to say why Boeing agreed to suspend the talks for a month. He said the mediators and both parties had agreed not to discuss “the reasoning behind the hiatus.”
SPEEA’s Goforth said the union agreed to the break “to let our people enjoy their holidays without having to worry about a strike.”
Boeing vs. SPEEA
Pay: Boeing has offered raises of 3.5 to 4.5 percent each year for four years. SPEEA wants 6 percent each year for three years.
Medical: Boeing wants to increase overall employee health-care contributions, while offering one zero-premium plan. SPEEA says the proposal would hike costs by 12 percent.
Retirement: Boeing wants to replace the pension for new hires with a 401(K).
SPEEA says the 401(K) will reduce retirement benefits 40 percent and is unacceptable.
Sources: Boeing, SPEEA