No strike at Boeing

In a campaign marked by company intimidation, government pressure, economic crisis and considerable confusion, Boeing Machinists voted down the “best and final” contract offer from the Boeing Company, but were unable to muster the two-thirds majority required to authorize a strike.

As a result, the contract offer that 62 percent of Machinists voted against went into effect immediately, complete with increased costs for health care, greater company “flexibility” to contract work to non-union subcontractors and the right to have subcontractors deliver parts directly to the shop floor.

Workers will receive a one-time bonus of 8 percent of their pay, plus raises of 2 percent in the second year of the contract and 2.5 percent in the third year, a cost-of-living adjustment and a slight increase in pension benefits.

The union leadership had recommended that the contract be turned down and called for strike authorization. Looming large in workers’ minds were the 30,000 Boeing workers who have been laid off over the previous year, the depressed state of the airline industry and widespread rumors that Boeing would welcome a strike at this time, since many airlines are eager to postpone delivery of planes ordered before the current economic downturn.

Mark Blondin, president of Machinists Local 751, told reporters, “Our members clearly rejected this company offer. But they felt that they could not strike at this time.” At the last contract vote three years ago the local had 44,000 members; this year the local, covering workers in Washington State, Kansas, and Oregon, is down to 25,000 members.

The first contract vote, taken on August 29, ended in confusion. Halfway through the vote, union leaders announced that the union had been ordered to report to Washington, D.C., by federal mediators. In the ensuing confusion, ballots were sealed and never counted.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service denied that it had done anything more than request the union and company to continue discussions. The union went to Washington, D.C., ready to continue negotiations, but the company went saying it planned only to explain its “best and final offer,” and would not engage in further negotiations. The local then planned a second vote on Sept. 13.

Washington State, with the largest number of Machinists, now has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

The author can be reached at marcbrodine@attbi.com