Striking Boeing workers prepare to vote on revised contract
Machinists union leaders have recommended that workers accept the revised contract offer. About 18,400 union members...
The Associated Press
EVERETT — Dean Lincoln figures the wages he lost during a month on strike from Boeing are nothing compared to what he'd have paid in additional health care costs if striking Machinists had agreed to the first contract the company offered.
But Lincoln also had only been back on the job for a month — after being laid off for 21/2 years — before the strike began Sept. 2, so it was tough to lose a paycheck. The Lake Stevens resident said he planned to vote Thursday to accept a revised offer and return to work, but he's unhappy it had to come down to a strike at all.
"They should've offered it the first time," Lincoln said this week, while picketing outside Boeing's sprawling facilities in Everett, north of Seattle, where 747s and 777s are assembled.
Machinists union leaders have recommended that workers accept the revised contract offer. About 18,400 union members in the Puget Sound area, Gresham, Ore., and Wichita, Kan., will decide.
If workers approve the offer — a simple majority is sufficient — they would immediately stop striking and could return to work for their next shift.
Union leaders said the revised proposal addressed pensions and health care benefits, the issues most important to a membership that averages 49 years of age and is paid an average of $59,000 a year.
The union had recommended that members reject the previous contract offer over those same issues, prompting the first Machinists strike at Boeing in a decade.
For some members, this year's contract battle also was about financial restoration from what they perceived to be a sub-par contract negotiated in 2002, after the terrorist attacks that pummeled the aerospace industry and led to thousands of layoffs at Boeing. Now that Boeing's fortunes are improving, the union argued that workers should benefit, too.
Under the revised proposal, workers would see no changes to current health care premiums, a move union leaders said will save members between $2,000 and $4,000 per year over the rejected offer. That offer increased premiums for workers in response to soaring health care costs nationwide.
The new agreement also increases pension payouts by nearly 17 percent to $70 per month for every year worked. The previous offer increased that figure to $66, from $60 currently.
There was no general wage increase, but workers would receive lump sum payments totaling about $11,000 over the contract's three years. Boeing dropped a plan to offer incentive payments based on whether the company meets or exceeds financial targets.
The Chicago-based company said the total cost of the new offer was similar to the rejected offer.
Scott Martin of Sedro-Woolley said he liked the provision to keep health care costs at current levels. He said he wasn't as concerned about pensions as some of his colleagues are because, at age 40, retirement seems far off. A more immediate concern was paying his bills while out on strike, and he had to borrow money from his parents to get through.
"It's always a tough question whether it was worth it because you never get that money back," he said of the lost wages. "But sometimes you've got to stand up and fight."
But other Machinists — especially some who are closer to retirement — were looking for an even better deal.
R.C. Cook of Everett turns 55 this year, and after 24 years working on various airplanes he would like to retire soon. He's disappointed the new contract didn't increase pension payouts even further and that there is still a penalty for early retirement.
Cook also worried that his fellow union members were only thinking of superficial perks — like the approximately $5,000 payment that would come late this year — and weren't concerned enough about issues like job security and weekend work.
"Everybody's looking at the icing on the cake," he said.
Don Grinde, 48, was disappointed there was no general wage increase, which he said would be worth a lot more in the long term than the yearly cash payouts. He also would have liked better pension benefits and more job security guarantees.
Despite the layoffs, labor strife and other grumbling, it's common to find workers on the picket line who have been assembling Boeing planes for decades. Lincoln, the worker who was recently rehired, said he has no plans to leave Boeing, where he's worked for almost 15 years. While he was laid off he got an associate's degree in civil engineering technology, but the jobs in that field paid $15,000 to $20,000 less than his approximately $50,000 Boeing salary.
"It's hard to find the kind of benefits and the pay" that Boeing workers receive, he said.