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Boeing Machinists to vote Saturday

Wed., Oct. 29, 2008

SEATTLE – Boeing Co.’s Machinist union said it will vote on a tentative four-year labor pact on Saturday, a process that could end an eight-week strike against the airplane maker.

The strike, now in its 53rd day, has shut Boeing’s commercial jet factories, cut into profits and delayed airplane deliveries.

Boeing spokesman Tim Healy on Tuesday said company and union officials would meet soon to set a schedule for workers to return to their jobs if the contract is ratified. Workers were given two weeks to report after the end of the last strike in 2005, but Healy said the company feels “that’s probably too long.”

As for the timing of the ratification vote, “that’s their process,” he said. “We want to get folks back to work as soon as we can.”

It remains unclear how long it would take Boeing’s commercial aircraft business to return to pre-strike production levels.

The union, representing 27,000 production workers in Washington, Oregon and Kansas, went on strike Sept. 6 after rejecting a final contract offer by the company, with major sticking points being job security and health benefits.

The strike is the union’s fourth against Boeing in two decades and has cost the Chicago-based airplane maker an estimated $100 million a day in deferred revenue and pushed back scheduled deliveries of its commercial airplanes, including its long-awaited 787 jetliner.

Last week, Boeing said its third-quarter profit sank 38 percent to $695 million, or 96 cents per share, because of the strike and supplier problems. The strike lowered earnings by roughly 35 cents per share, the supplier problems by 25 cents.

The strike also impeded Boeing’s delivery schedule. The company delivered just 84 planes during the quarter, 35 fewer than planned.

Boeing’s chief financial officer, James Bell, said after the earnings announcement that the company should be able to resume pre-strike production within two months. “Hopefully we can do it in a lot less time,” he said in a conference call.

Boeing said its backlog of plane orders, meanwhile, was worth a record $349 billion, up from $346 billion at the end of the previous quarter.

A day after the earnings announcement, Boeing and union representatives began revived contract talks that lasted five straight days. The company and Machinists negotiators agreed to the proposed labor pact late Monday, with union negotiators unanimously endorsing it.

Separately, Boeing’s contract talks with its union engineers will move into high gear later this week. The company hopes to avoid a second strike, this one by its white-collar union, which represents 21,000 scientists, engineers, manual writers, technicians and other hourly workers.


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