Facing company threats to move more jobs and production overseas, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) opened talks with Boeing on June 25 in Kansas City. The union represents 25,000-26,000 Boeing workers. The present contract expires at 12:01 a.m., Monday, September 2.

Matt Bates, a union Grand Lodge Representatives says the key issues in the current talks are the same ones that forced Boeing workers out for 69 days in 1995: Job security, pensions and health care. “We fought over these issues again in 1999 and we will fight over them again this year,” he told the World.

Bates said these issues “are at the heart” of where our society is headed and “define the responsibility we in the IAM have to that society. If we in the labor movement can’t address these problems no one can. You can bet the workforce at Boeing will do their part.”

Earlier IAM Vice President Robert Thayer told the union’s May 5 Aerospace Bargaining Conference, “The employer is still coming after your wages and benefits. Less for you means more for them. That’s the mathematics of corporate greed, and it hasn’t changed.”

Boeing, ranked Number 16 on the Fortune 500 list, had after-tax profits for 2001 of $2.83 billion, a 158 percent increase over profits of $1.12 billion in 1998. Total sales tell the same story: $58.2 billion for 2001 contrasted with $45.8 billion from 1997 – a 27percent increase. With some $12 billion in military contracts, the giant aerospace firm is also the nation’s second largest military contractor.

The IAM says the union absolutely opposes Boeing’s vision of itself as a “virtual corporation” – a company that designs and assembles airplanes and hires others to manufacture the parts, components and subassemblies.

And for good reason: In 1990, 44,000 IAM members at Boeing plants in the Seattle area, Wichita, and Portland, Ore., produced 290 planes. Last year, 28,000 Machinists manufactured 450 planes. Boeing earned $2.83 billion last year, more than double what it earned in 1999.

The IAM says union surveys show 95.5 percent of the IAM workforce at Boeing believe their jobs “are not secure at all” or are only “somewhat secure” and charged that Boeing is fueling workers’ fears by sending jobs and technologies to South Korea, Indonesia, Mexico and Malaysia, where labor costs are artificially low.

Also high on the union’s list of demands is an overhaul of the pension plan that provides an average 30-year retiree with an annual income of $18,000.

In explaining its demand for a better pension, the union said the $12 billion Boeing Pension Fund is over funded by $3 billion, which means Boeing has not contributed one penny to the fund since 1997. The union says the fund generated $402 million in interest and earnings last year, which Boeing listed on their financial statements under net earnings to show a “fatter” bottom line. “The money in the pension fund was negotiated to benefit IAM members, not Boeing,” the union added.

Members of IAM Lodge 751, representing Boeing workers in Washington State scheduled a strike authorization vote for July 9 in Seattle. Similar votes are planned elsewhere. Rules require a two-thirds majority vote to authorize a strike.

Boeing will deliver its “last, best and final” offer to the IAM on August 27. Members will vote on the offer on August 29.

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries