October 28, 2008 in Nation/World

Boeing, striking union sign pact

Deal awaits vote by Machinists
By TIM KLASS Associated Press
 

SEATTLE – A tentative four-year settlement was reached late Monday to end a machinists’ strike that has shut down Boeing Co. commercial airplane operations since Sept. 6, union and company spokesmen confirmed.

Boeing and the Machinists union said the deal would enhance job security.

Francis “Frank” Larkin, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Washington, D.C., said the deal was reached shortly before 6 p.m. PDT Monday, the fifth day of talks at Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service headquarters in Washington and the 52nd day of the walkout.

The strike has hurt Boeing’s suppliers, including Kaiser Aluminum Corp. and Triumph Composite Systems in the Spokane area. Triumph, which makes air ducts and composite floors for Boeing, announced in September that it would lay off more than 200 workers because of the strike.

In a news release, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Scott E. Carson said Monday’s agreement “rewards employees for their contributions to our success while preserving our ability to compete.”

Boeing spokesman Tim Healy in Seattle said that although he could not give details, the settlement includes varying degrees of change in all three parts of the contract that deal with outsourcing – provisions for subcontractors to deliver parts and supplies to the shop floor, procedures for the union to bid for work before it is outsourced, and a section on maintenance work.

Healy said it took until Saturday to reach agreement on job security, with the two successive days of talks devoted primarily to economic issues.

Mediators called the two sides to the table last Thursday under a news blackout.

The main stumbling block had been job security. Other top issues included wages, retirement benefits and medical coverage.

According to a statement issued by the union, the settlement “will provide job security for its members and limit the amount of work outside vendors can perform in the workplace.”

IAM represents about 25,000 workers in and around Seattle, 1,500 in Gresham, Ore., and 750 in Wichita, Kan. Participants in the talks included IAM President Tom Buffenbarger.

“I think we’ve addressed all the major concerns that our members have had,” a fatigued Buffenbarger said by telephone.

The union withheld additional details of the agreement pending distribution to the membership, but its statement said the pact was unanimously endorsed by IAM negotiators and will be submitted for a ratification vote in three to five days. A simple majority is required for approval.

The walkout began three days after Boeing’s last offer was rejected with an 87 percent strike vote. Two days of last-ditch talks to avoid a strike failed, and another two-day round of negotiations collapsed Oct. 13. Mediators were involved in both of those efforts.

Mark Blondin, the union’s aerospace coordinator and chief negotiator, said after the last unsuccessful round of talks the sticking point was Boeing’s insistence on moving to replace about 2,000 union workers who distribute parts, deliver materials and perform similar tasks with outside suppliers and subcontractors.

Boeing offered to keep the 2,000 affected workers on the payroll for the term of the contract but no longer, Blondin said.

Parts and supply delivery to the shop floor has been a sore spot with the union since 2002, when the Machinists rejected a contract offer giving subcontractors access to the shop floor for the first time but failed to muster the two-thirds vote required for a strike. As a result, Boeing was able to put the terms into effect without union agreement.

The Machinists sought to remove that provision during their 28-day strike in 2005 but settled without winning on that issue.

The current strike is the Machinists’ fourth against Boeing in two decades. The union was out for 69 days in 1995 and 48 days in 1989.

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