Machinists at The Boeing Co. voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to give their contract negotiators authority to call a strike, a standard move to add clout to the union’s position at the bargaining table.
Nearly 13,000 union members nationwide voted, with 95.6 percent approving strike authorization, said Connie Kelliher, spokeswoman for District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers.
A rally and balloting session at the Kingdome attracted about 11,000 people, of whom a little more than 10,000 cast ballots. Union members in Wichita, Kan., cast 2,300 votes, Portland machinists added 550 votes and members in Spokane cast 225, Kelliher said.
Union members heard speeches by District 751 President Bill Johnson, Machinists’ International President George Kourpias, and members of the negotiating team at the Kingdome rally. Production workers at Boeing were able to take the day off without pay to attend the meetings.
The machinists’ three-year contract with Boeing expires Oct. 3. Negotiations begin in earnest on Sept. 21, though preliminary talks began Aug. 4.
The union wants language in the new contract to restrict Boeing’s use of subcontractors and the transfer of union jobs to foreign companies. The proposal also seeks wage increases and lump-sum payments in all three years of the contract.
Boeing has cut tens of thousands of jobs in the past six years because of dwindling aircraft orders. The company also has been moving work to outside or foreign companies to cut costs and help land foreign aircraft orders, which account for 70 percent of Boeing’s jetliner sales.
“Boeing cannot continue to have a blank check to send U.S. jobs and technologies to China, Korea and all over the world,” Machinists’ chief negotiator Bob Gregory said after the vote. “Unlimited subcontracting is unfair to the people who build Boeing airplanes and destructive to the U.S. economy.”
Union officials said the strike vote was needed both to give their negotiators clout at the bargaining table and to ensure members can collect strike benefits should a strike occur.
Members will vote on Boeing’s final contract offer just before the current pact expires.
Under their present contract, machinists received a 12 percent, one-time payment in 1992, and general wage increases of 3.5 percent in both 1993 and 1994. Machinists at Boeing currently average about $18.40 an hour.