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Originally published Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 7:02 AM

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C-17 workers strike Boeing in Long Beach, Calif.

Boeing Co. workers who assemble C-17 planes went on strike Tuesday, shutting down the production line for the jumbo cargo jets in a feud over medical and pension benefits.

The Associated Press

LONG BEACH, Calif. —

Boeing Co. workers who assemble C-17 planes went on strike Tuesday, shutting down the production line for the jumbo cargo jets in a feud over medical and pension benefits.

Nearly all of the 1,700 unionized mechanics at Boeing's Long Beach plant heeded the strike call, but about 3,000 non-union workers continued in jobs ranging from engineering to supply and sales, Boeing spokeswoman Cindy Anderson said.

The Chicago-based company shut down the C-17 production line indefinitely.

Anderson said the strike has not affected C-17 operations, such as parts supply and manufacture, that employ thousands of people in 44 states.

Such suppliers have "a long lead time" and their operations haven't been disrupted yet, but "everybody's anxious to get the workers back to work," Anderson said.

The strike was called nearly a week after negotiations failed to bridge a gap between Boeing and negotiators from United Auto Workers Local 148.

Boeing offered wage and pension increases, but the union wants a larger pension and opposes an increase in employee health contribution costs near the contract's expiration in early 2014.

Union members picketed Tuesday, arguing that the contract was unworthy of a highly trained work force that helped Boeing post a $1.31 billion profit last year.

They also complained about how much Boeing CEO Jim McNerney is paid. McNerney received cash and other compensation last year worth $13.7 million, according to an Associated Press analysis of the company's proxy statement.

"They're not trimming his wages but they want to trim them for the people that put the plane together," said Art Faffell, a jig builder who has been at the Long Beach plant for a quarter-century.

"I'm grateful to have the job but I don't feel we're lucky (to have one)," he said. "We're making this company billions of dollars through our skills and our talents."

Boeing's latest offer included a lump sum of $4,000 for each worker in the first year, a wage increase of about 3.4 percent over the life of the agreement, and an increase in the basic pension benefit to $79 per month for each year of service, from $70. But Boeing wants to raise the level of each employee's contribution for health coverage to 15 percent of the cost from 12 percent beginning in January 2014, more than 44 months into the 46 month contract.

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"This offer recognizes employees for their ongoing contributions and enhances the company's ability to continue producing the C-17," the company said in a statement.

Boeing officials argue that employees' increased health care costs come from inflation in medical costs, not changes to the plan. The increase in pay is 30 times more than the increase in costs, they said in the statement.

Workers rejected the proposed 46-month contract last week, and last-ditch discussions failed to result in an agreement. No new talks were scheduled.

Boeing is Long Beach's largest private employer with about 5,000 workers. The local work force has assembled more than 200 C-17s bought by the U.S. military and other countries.

The massive four-engine workhorse has been used in Iraq, Afghanistan and humanitarian missions such as earthquake relief in Haiti.

In February, Boeing announced that it was reducing the number of planes assembled in Long Beach by one-third to delay the plant's planned mid-2012 closure. Officials said they want to keep the plant operating while the company seeks more C-17 contracts.

Boeing endured an eight-week strike in late 2008 that shut down commercial airplane production and was a factor in delays for its new 787 and a new version of its 747. That walkout was by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which covered some 27,000 Boeing employees in Washington state, Oregon, and Kansas.

Meanwhile, machinists at Boeing's St. Louis defense systems plant authorized a strike earlier this month if no new contract is reached. The current agreement expires next month. Boeing has said it expects negotiations to lead to a new contract.

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