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Boeing, Machinists reach pact

Allison Linn Associated Press

SEATTLE – The Boeing Co. and its Machinists union have reached a tentative contract agreement, which if approved would end a three-week strike that shut down the company’s airplane production and resulted in layoffs for about 200 Triumph Composite Systems Inc. employees in West Plains.

How quickly Triumph’s workers get back on the job will depend on how quickly Boeing machinists resume production, said Paul Milliken, the business agent for the Machinists union at Triumph.

“We’ve been told that we’ll come back as soon as the Boeing workers come back,” Milliken said Sunday.

The West Plains factory, which Boeing sold to Triumph, makes flight deck components, air ducts and floor panels for Boeing aircraft and employees some 260 machinists. Attempts to reach Triumph’s West Plains plant president MaryLou Thomas were unsuccessful Sunday.

About 18,400 Machinists who assemble Boeing’s commercial airplanes and some key components walked off the job on Sept. 2, forcing the Chicago-based company to immediately stop its airplane production.

Mark Blondin, district president for Machinists District Lodge 751 in Seattle, confirmed the agreement Sunday and said union members would vote on the deal Thursday.

“I’m just proud of our membership,” Blondin said. “They stood solid, unified, and that solidarity is what finally got the company to do the right thing.”

Boeing spokesman Charles Bickers said the company believes the agreement is reasonable and reflects compromise on both sides.

According to Blondin, the deal calls for Boeing to make no changes to its current health care plan, despite huge increases in healthcare costs nationwide. That’s a major change from the premium and other increases that Boeing had demanded.

Pension payouts for union members would increase to $70 per month for every year served, up from $60 currently; the previous offer was $66. The company also agreed to continue offering retiree medical benefits for new hires, Blondin said.

There would be no general wage increase, but workers would receive an 8 percent signing bonus, or about $5,000, plus $3,000 payouts in the second and third years of the contract, he said. An earlier offer of incentive pay was dropped.

Blondin conceded Sunday that the union had hoped for a higher increase to pension payouts than is in the tentative agreement, but he said the fact that health care payouts wouldn’t change was, in the end, better for workers.

The average age of the workers represented is 49 and many have set a priority on retirement benefits. They are paid an average of $59,000 a year.

Boeing Chief Financial Officer James Bell had earlier said the strike could result in more than two dozen airplanes not reaching customers this month, although analysts said a strike lasting a month or less would likely not result in serious problems for Boeing.

The strike came as Boeing’s commercial airplane business, which had sagged under the weight of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a weak U.S. economy, started to improve. Boeing had racked up 529 orders through the end of July, compared with 299 orders for rival Airbus SAS.

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