UAW Boeing workers vote to strike

PHILADELPHIA – Nearly 1,500 members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 1069 voted to strike at the Boeing plant in nearby Ridley Township, Penn., Sept. 14. Local 1069 President John De Francisco said, “I consider the company’s last best offer an insult and I think my members do also. It was the company’s intent to get us to settle for a sub-par contract.”

The next day Boeing was able to obtain a court injunction limiting the number of pickets to two people at the gate. Despite the injunction, hundreds of Local 1069 members marched from their union hall to the Boeing plant before daybreak, Sept. 16. Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.), whose district includes the plant marched with them. The next day Local 1069 went to court and the terms of the injunction were changed.

The key issues of the dispute are health insurance benefits and work rules. Boeing wants workers to pay a larger share of their health premiums, co-payments and deductibles. The company does not want to adhere to seniority rules when transferring workers to new jobs in the plant.

On Sept. 17, Boeing and the union agreed to meet with a federal mediator, a UAW community relations spokesperson told the World. After meeting with the federal mediator, union officials expect Boeing to return to the negotiations table.

As UAW Local 1069 went on strike, 26,000 Boeing commercial jet employees around the country who are represented by a different union – the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) – accepted a contract by default. IAM members had voted down the contract by 61 percent, but did not reach the two-thirds majority needed to strike.

The Ridley Township Boeing plant makes helicopters and the V-22 Osprey, a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like an airplane. The Osprey is in danger of being canceled, said Boeing, because of fatal crashes during testing. Boeing is supplying Chinook helicopters to the U.S. military and Afghanistan.

Pentagon guidelines would allow the company to use other workers to cover strikers’ jobs. Said Boeing spokeswoman, Madelyn Bush, “The government requires that we keep doing this.”

The Ridley Township plant employs 4,900 workers. During recent years there has been a steady loss of jobs. In 2001 400 jobs were cut. Boeing announced that it intended to cut an additional 1,500 jobs by 2004.

“We’ve been doing everything they asked for and yet they keep taking back,” Mark Madden, a 44-year-old sheetmetal assembler, told The Philadelphia Enquirer. “I’ve worked here for 16 years. The company is making profits, good profits but they want more and more at our expense.”

Another Boeing worker, who did not wish to identify himself, said, “The company wants us to feel unpatriotic for going on strike, but they have taken advantage of us at every opportunity. So many of our members have been terminated in the past and their lives ruined. We have to draw the line somewhere.”

In 1998 Ridley Township became one of 39 sites scheduled for cleanup by the Department of Environmental Protection. The Boeing site had soil and groundwater contaminated with solvents.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@hotmail.com