Boeing Co. officials and striking production workers looked forward to building airplanes again as Machinists union members voted to accept a contract offer Wednesday and end a 69-day walkout.
The tally after daylong voting on the pact, which could set a pattern for other Boeing contracts and throughout the aerospace industry, was 87 percent in favor. In all, 21,383 Machinists cast ballots, with 18,604 voting yes.
In Spokane, the vote was even more one-sided. Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers at Boeing Spokane voted 256-9 to approve the new contract, said Craig McClure, business representative for Machinists Local 86.
“That’s pretty overwhelming,” said McClure, whose union represented 293 workers when the strike began Oct. 6. “I couldn’t analyze it any other way than to say it was a successful strike.”
Machinists may begin reporting back to the fabrication plant in Airway Heights as early as this morning, or as late as Jan. 2, depending on their scheduled shift, McClure said.
Workers at other Boeing plants in the Puget Sound, Portland and Wichita, Kan., will follow a similar schedule.
The settlement also should benefit merchants, especially in the Puget Sound where some stores have reported holiday sales far below normal.
As part of the settlement, the average Machinist will receive about $4,000 three days before Christmas.
“If they start picking up that bonus before Christmas, I’m sure the merchants are going to see some of it,” McClure said.
Nationally, labor leaders and analysts said the strike gave unions a badly needed victory in wake of a string of defeats. As recently as last week, union leaders called off a strike against equipment giant Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria, Ill., without a contract.
“Anyone who thinks unionism is dead in America should hop on a plane and visit the workers at Boeing,” Bill Johnson, president of Machinists District Lodge 751 in Seattle, told cheering union members as he announced the vote.
“We set our goals, stayed united and fought toe to toe with one of the biggest corporations on Earth for 69 days and the union prevailed on every single issue.”
Workers stand to receive an estimated average increase of $19,200 in pay and benefits over the fouryear term of the agreement, Johnson said earlier. District
Strikers lost an average of $8,000 to $9,000 each, he said.
“You’re going to make that up over the life of the agreement - it’s a real win,” Johnson said.
Other provisions include new protections against job losses from subcontracting and 100 percent company payment of all health insurance premiums until 1998 and possibly longer.
The walkout delayed delivery of nearly three dozen jetliners, forcing some airlines to cut service and rearrange schedules and cutting Boeing’s revenue by hundreds of millions of dollars in the fourth quarter.
The amount of time needed to resume normal operations and catch up on deliveries remains undetermined, company spokesman Russ Young said.
Workplace morale will be a concern for both sides.
“I think we’re all concerned about that,” Young said. “We hope this offer goes a long way to addressing a lot of those concerns.”
“I think they’re going to walk back there very proud, and they’re not going to walk back in there with their heads hanging down,” Johnson said.
“One of the things that they have to understand, and I think they do understand, is that they’re going to have to reduce the cycle times (the time needed to assemble a plane) and they’re going to have to increase their productivity,” he added. “I think it’s going to be up to the company to mend some of the wounds and mend some of the fences, too.”
The Machinists strike began Oct. 6 and continued after a second contract offer was rejected Nov. 21 to become the second-longest in company history, exceeded only by a 140-day walkout in 1948. Boeing Machinists also struck in 1965, 1977 and 1989.
Before the strike, Boeing expected to deliver 235 planes by the end of the year. Now company officials anticipate 200 to 205.
Little more than planning, reorientation, reassignment and major maintenance is expected between now and Dec. 23, when Boeing largely shuts down until Jan. 2, Young said.
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