Three of the county’s biggest industrial unions, including two that represent 33,500 production workers at The Boeing Co., are expected to announce plans today to merge and become the nation’s largest labor organization, a Seattle union leader confirmed.
The United Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers of America and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are scheduled to announce the merger at a press conference in Washington, D.C., according to Bill Johnson, president of the Machinists union’s District 751.
Johnson’s union, the largest at Boeing, represents about 31,000 machinists, including nearly 25,000 in the Puget Sound area and Spokane, 5,000 in Wichita, Kan., and about 1,200 in Portland.
The United Auto Workers represents about 2,500 workers at Boeing’s helicopter production facilities in Philadelphia through its affiliated United Aerospace Workers union.
The Steelworkers union represents 2,048 of the workers at Kaiser Aluminum’s two Spokane plants and many of the workers in Northwest mines.
Boeing does not have any workers under a collective bargaining agreement with the United Steelworkers of America, company spokesman Paul Binder said.
Binder declined to comment on the proposed merger, whose announcement comes a week before the aerospace giant’s talks for a new three-year contract with the Machinists begin in Wichita on Aug. 4.
If approved through a vote by the unions’ members, the merger isn’t expected to affect this year’s labor negotiations between Boeing and the Machinists or the Auto Workers because it isn’t likely to be completed before contracts with the two unions expire in early October, labor insiders said.
A merger this size could take as long as five years to complete, according to one estimate.
The consolidation of the steel, auto and aerospace workers creates a union with 2 million members, eclipsing the Teamsters, which has 1.3 million members. The National Education Association has 2.2 million members, but not all of them fall under collective bargaining arrangements.
The UAW, the largest of the three unions, has just under 1 million members. It represents workers at General Motors Corp. in Detroit and McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St. Louis.
The USW has 700,000 members, including workers at USX Corp. in Pittsburgh; the Machinists union has 492,000 members and also represents workers at Lockheed in Southern California.
Consolidations have become commonplace among labor organizations, which face declining membership as manufacturers reduce output and streamline production through automation.
Employment in the aerospace industry, for example, has declined 35 percent to 586,000 workers in 1994 from 905,100 in 1989, according to the Aerospace Industries Association in Washington, D.C.
Boeing has eliminated about 60,000 jobs in the past five years.