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Contract Will Maintain Boeing’s Leadership Company Chairman Says Labor Agreement Should Allow Boeing To Maintain Competitive Edge

A new contract agreement reached with Boeing Co. production workers will help the aerospace giant maintain its leadership in the industry, Chairman Frank Shrontz said.

“I think the company is positioned well,” said Shrontz, who spoke briefly to reporters Wednesday night as he left a ceremony honoring him as the local World Affairs Council’s 1995 World Citizen.

“We still think we have a lot of work to do on our processes to improve them. So our hope is that our people will be more productive and we can improve some of the systems to remain competitive.

“If we ever lose our leadership position, then everybody is going to suffer in this community,” said Shrontz, also Boeing’s chief executive officer.

Machinists union members on Wednesday voted 87 percent in favor of a new four-year contract that brought an end to a 69-day walkout.

Shrontz, who heads the largest commercial aircraft manufacturer in the world, said the new labor pact was as much a victory for the company as it is for employees.

“Oh, I think it’s a victory and we’re delighted to have our people back,” said Shrontz, “I think we ended up with a contract that’s fair all the way around and it addressed some of the issues they were concerned about.

“And from our point of view, it’s going to allow us to remain competitive, which I think is critical in the long term for everybody.”

Some worry about morale after the second-longest strike in the company’s history. But Shrontz expressed optimism.

“I think we will have a healing process to go through,” he said. “Only time is going to tell how serious it is or what needs to be done. But after all, we’re all in this together. It’s not just my future but it’s all their futures and I think we can find some ways to work together and keep our costs down and remain competitive and to justify some of the faith that I think they had in coming back to work.”

Returning workers, for the most part, seemed in good spirits and willing to put the animosity of the strike behind them.

“I felt Boeing finally listened to us and took us seriously,” said Mark Cline, 35, a lead mechanic on the 767 jetliner in Everett. “They didn’t believe we had enough resolve to stick it out. We just wanted to be treated fairly.”

An Everett-plant colleague, Jim Whitton, 33, returned to work in the rain Thursday morning. Saying it was “wonderful to be back making money,” he added, “It doesn’t look like much got done around here. It looks the same as when we left 69 days ago.”

Two significant gestures in the contract indicate that Boeing recognized the growing morale problem that existed even before the strike.

The company agreed to withdraw medical copayments for three years and work jointly with union representatives to control health-care costs. The previous contracts required Machinists to pay monthly premiums or switch to a health maintenance organization, or HMO.

And for the first time, Boeing agreed that “bargaining-unit employees should not be laid off as a result of subcontracting.” The company also agreed that a Machinist whose work is subcontracted will be reassigned, or retrained for available work.