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Boeing union workers have some misgivings, but appear to favor new contract

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Dec. 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
December 7, 2011 4:15 pm

If interviews with Boeing Machinists Union workers voting at Frederickson today on a proposed four-year contract extension are an accurate indicator, the contract appears headed for an easy ratification.

A majority of union workers interviewed said they intended to vote to approve the contract.

Those union workers were among 31,000 Machinists Union workers here and in other states who were eligible to vote on a ground-breaking agreement announced last week in a hastily-called press conference by the union, Boeing’s largest.

The contract proposal is a result of six weeks of secret negotiations between Boeing and the union. If approved by the union rank and file, the contract will ensure that Boeing will build the newest version of its best-selling airliner, the 737 MAX, at the company’s Renton plant.

In return the union will ask the National Labor Relations Board to drop its lawsuit against Boeing for building a second assembly line for its 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina. That suit contends Boeing sited the plant there as retaliation against the union for a 2008 strike.

While union workers interviewed gave the tentative deal, which will give them a $5,000 signing bonus and raises of up to 6 percent a year over the next four years, a passing grade, they were concerned about certain aspects of the proposal.

“I’d say there’s good and bad,” said Boeing mechanic Karen Eichenlaub of Graham. “The good is the stability it will bring to the company and the workforce. And its generally a good benefits package,” she said.

“The bad are the takeaways in the medical plan,” said Eichenlaub. “On the whole, I’m hoping it passes.”

Frederickson, where Boeing has a plant that builds composite tail structures for the 777 and 787 and wing parts for other commercial airliners, was one of a handful of Puget Sound locations where union members were voting Wednesday.

The contract proposal, which emerged 10 months before the existing labor pact is due to expire, requires a majority of those voting to be approved. Results of that voting are scheduled to be announced tonight at the union’s local headquarters in Seattle.

The higher employee costs in the proposed health coverage plan alarmed longtime Boeing worker Bill Stabilito.

“The company is doing too well for them to ask us to pay more for our health care,” said the Frederickson spar mill operator.

Stabilito said he was voting against the deal.

“I’ve spent too many years fighting against those takebacks,” he said. “It’s not time to retreat now.”

Boeing composite repairman Arturo Valenzuela was more upbeat about the proposal.

“I don’t begrudge Boeing for moving forward now,” he said. “They saw a potential problem coming up and they moved to nip it in the bud.”

Valenzuela said he’s seen four strikes since he began working at Boeing. Those strikes aren’t easy to endure for the workforce or the company, he said.

“You don’t always recover what you’ve lost,” he said.

“In this economy with so much still uncertain, I think both sides will welcome some stability,” he said.

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