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Boeing union, company spar over retiree health benefits

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Sep. 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
September 26, 2012 3:52 pm

The war of words over Boeing’s proposed new contract for its 23,000 engineers and technical workers heated up Wednesday.

The union representing Boeing’s engineers and technical workers rallied today against a Boeing contract proposal the union says could strip retirees of their medical benefits.

But Boeing countered that the union is needlessly alarming its members. The company, it said “has no plans to eliminate retiree medical benefits for current retirees.”

The rally at Boeing Commercial Airplane headquarters in downtown Seattle came as members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace are voting whether to accept a Boeing offer of a new four-year contract. Those ballots will be counted Monday.

The union’s bargaining committee has recommended rejection of the proposal.

The retiree medical proposal, the union said, is one reason for the members to vote no on ratification.

“Tucked inside section 16.3 of the offers is carefully worded language that if approved by union members would give Boeing the authority to cancel retiree medical insurance for current retirees,” the union said in a press release.

But Boeing spokesman Doug Alder Jr. said the union’s concern undue.

“Regrettably, SPEEA has chosen to sensationalize the issue and cause unnecessary concern,” said the company spokesman.

“If we’d had the opportunity to discuss our proposal with the union, we could have clarified that we did not intend to change the status quo with respect to retiree medical benefits,” said Boeing.

Boeing says it was surprised when SPEEA decided to submit the contract proposal it submitted to union bargainers Sept. 15 for a member vote. The company said it had expected to bargain more with the union before any vote was taken.

The union, which said it submitted its proposal to Boeing in June, was clearly upset that Boeing had waited until three weeks before the current contract expires to present a complete proposal. The contract expires Oct. 6.

The mail ballots regarding the Boeing proposal contain no provision for the union to call a strike if the Boeing deal is rejected.

Boeing’s offer proposes among other things to raise the average engineer’s salary to more than $125,000 by 2016 and the average technical worker’s pay to more than $89,000.

The proposal calls for workers as well as the company to pay more for medical insurance during the contract’s terms.

The medical coverage is part of the retirement benefit for eligible employees. The benefit provides medical coverage for retirees between the ages of 55 and 65 years.

“The union vote is a straight “Reject” or “Accept” of the Boeing contract offers. Union officials said a strong rejection should make it clear to Boeing that it must stop attacking engineers and technical workers and return to negotiations ready to negotiate,” the union said in a press release.

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