Some striking Machinists prepared, some not

RENTON, Wash. – As Boeing Machinists entered their second day on strike, some with comfortably padded savings say they’re prepared for a long haul while others are wondering how they’ll pay the bills if they’re off the job for long.

For Megan Venables, a clerk at the Everett plant and a 19-year Boeing worker, the strike came as a surprise.

“I didn’t really save up for it because I wasn’t really expecting such a sad offer,” Venables said.

“It was looking so good,” she said about the surge in commercial jet orders and employee re-hires since the last contract in 2002.

Venables expects her last paycheck in two weeks and said she’ll probably start feeling the pinch in a month.

To pay for her car payments, loan payments and mortgage, she said she’ll probably take out a loan from her Voluntary Investment Plan account, a company investment plan in which employees can invest up to 15 percent of their wages in different investment funds.

She said she hopes to take out no more than $15,000, some of which might go toward out-of-pocket payments to extend her health coverage if the strike continues through Sept. 30, when her coverage runs out.

Venables has both diabetes and polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, a disease where abnormally soft bones break easily, and was worried that her health insurance would run out before she could get her next treatment to strengthen her bones.

Venables is one of the approximately 18,400 Machinists who walked off the job Friday, after machinists in the Puget Sound area, Gresham, Ore., and Wichita, Kan., voted overwhelmingly the day before to strike, rejecting a three-year contract proposal, and forcing the company to immediately stop making airplanes.

Union leaders have said the contract offer fell short on top issues including pension payments and increased health care costs.

Mary Leigh, a machinist at the Frederickson plant, and her husband, David, also didn’t save money for the strike.

Although she has saved money for the three previous strikes she’s gone through in her past 28 years as a Boeing employee, Leigh said as she picketed with her husband outside the Renton plant, “We weren’t ready for it at all.”

Her husband, who works at the Auburn plant, said he didn’t see the usual signs of a coming strike, such as union rallies and temporary fencing put up around the plant gates the weeks before a strike vote.

Their plan: Take out a loan from their Voluntary Investment Plan to pay for everyday bills and interest on loans taken out for their two sons’ college education.

But others, like Mike Brown, a tool grinder at the Renton plant, has been saving for years. Brown, a 33-year veteran of the company, said he’s been saving money since the last contract three years ago and now has enough money to last him anywhere from six months to a year.

It’s a lesson he learned from his first two strikes, when he had to find temporary jobs – one at a painting shop and another as a machine operator – because he didn’t save.

“It was hard to make ends meet,” he said.

Machinists on strike will receive strike pay of $150 per week starting Sept. 24, said union spokeswoman Connie Kelliher. Job listings are posted both in union halls and on the union Web site.

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