Striking machinists and the Boeing Co. will resume talks today aimed at ending a 6-week-old strike against the aerospace company - the first talks in the labor dispute since before the walkout began.
Robert E. Gregory, chief negotiator for the Machinists union, said talks were set to resume at 9 a.m. at an undisclosed location. Gregory said Federal Mediator Ben Youtsey requested the meeting.
“Now that the federal mediator has called the parties back to the bargaining table, we expect Boeing to begin fair negotiations with the union,” Gregory said. “We hope the meeting marks a major step forward.”
The talks will be the first since Oct. 2, four days before the strike began.
“I assume our entire bargaining team is going to be there talking about a settlement for the strike,” Boeing spokesman Russ Young said. “We haven’t spoken, we haven’t had a meeting, since Oct. 2, so yes, I’d have to say it’s a positve step.”
Youtsey said earlier Friday that he was ready for talks, despite the budget deadlock that has resulted in a shutdown of non-essential government services.
“I’m available, and the offices of the FMCS are available,” he said.
Job security, medical benefits and pay are the top issues in the strike by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents about 32,000 blue-collar production workers in the Puget Sound area and in Wichita, Kan., Gresham, Ore., and Spokane.
Machinists negotiators have sought more information on the company’s proposed overhaul of medical benefits and on subcontracting, which they blame for elimination of many of the 18,000 union jobs that were lost in recent years.
A National Labor Relations Board complaint said the strike resulted from unfair labor practices by Boeing - including the withholding of data sought by the union on both issues.
Boeing’s information dissemination efforts over the past week and a half got mixed responses from the Machinists. The company is preparing some material on subcontracting which could be provided by Monday, union spokesman Matt Bates said, but it was not clear what the scope of that information might be.
The two sides also appeared to be making little headway on medical benefits data.
In a related issue, union leaders met Friday with officials of the state Department of Employment Security to discuss the denial of unemployment insurance payments to strikers. State law generally bars payment of those benefits to strikers but allows exceptions for locked-out workers.
About 8,300 have applied for benefits and been denied. An administrative law judge probably will hear their appeals in early of December.