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Picketers march during first day of Boeing strike

Post by News Tribune Staff on Sep. 6, 2008 at 2:01 pm with No Comments »
September 6, 2008 2:01 pm

Allen van Houck’s shift at The Boeing Co.’s Renton plant ended promptly at midnight Saturday morning. One minute later, he and 27,000 other union Machinists went on strike.

And the 52-year-old team lead inspector from Renton isn’t sure when he’ll return to work.

"I was saddened. It really bothered me walking out like that," he said. "The mood on the floor wasn’t happy with Boeing’s offer. I hope the executives don’t say this was a surprise. How could they not know?"

"Look, we don’t want to strike. We’d all rather be working."

The strike follows the collapse of last-minute negotiations between the company and union representatives in Orlando, Fla. It halts all commercial airline production at the Renton and Everett assembly plants as well as parts production in Auburn and Frederickson.

The union rejected Boeing’s latest contract offer Wednesday, but leaders agreed to hold off on striking by 48 hours while both sides met with a mediator. Talks were unsuccessful, and at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, workers throughout the Puget Sound region, Portland and Wichita, Kan., began picketing.

About 20 union members and supporters held signs near the gate of the aerospace corporation’s largely empty Renton plant by mid-morning. Drivers – including a few in Boeing security cars – honked horns as they drove by. Picketers said the response from the community has been largely positive.

"It’s encouraging. Absolutely, it is," said Renton’s Linda Herrmann, who works as a sealer. She and others said Boeing’s latest contract offer was rife with problems, and the most worrisome for many picketers were the outsourcing of jobs, retirement benefits and raising the minimum pay.

Hermann first resisted a strike.

"When I heard both sides, I couldn’t help but not want to," she said. "And we have to stick together. You have to. You have to."

The minimum-pay issue is of particular concern for Vadim Fediounine. The 44-year-old Bellevue man works at the Renton plant as a flight test mechanic on the P-8 Poseidon military jet. He isn’t concerned with raising the maximum pay (he’s comfortable with his salary and hasn’t hit the cap yet) or the increase in medical insurance premiums (he believes it’s largely in line with inflation), but he believes the salary for entry-level jobs is way behind what the market would pay.

"If someone is making $20 or $25 an hour, why would they leave that job to make $12.72 per hour?" he asked. "It just won’t happen. They can’t attract any skilled workers with that."

Fediounine, standing outside the Renton plant with his 13-year-old son, Boris, went to the picket line in 2005, and he said he hoped a deal would be struck to allow him to continue working.

His coworkers’ growing desire to strike somewhat surprised him, he said.

"I was against the strike," he said, "but where am I know? I am out here on the picket line."

For many, the strike means it’s time to dip into savings or begin looking for temporary work.

"I’ve got some things I’m looking into on Monday and Tuesday," Herrmann said. "But I’ll make it. I’m just doing what you got to do."

Van Houck, the inspector, said he’s concerned the public won’t take in the full scope of the labor issue.

"People might say we’re greedy, but the executives making millions more," he said. "People say, ‘Well, they’re smart. They make good decisions.’

"Was this a good decision?"

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