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Boeing strikers to vote today

Striking Boeing Co. worker Ric James, of Kent, Wash., staffs a picket line. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Striking Boeing Co. worker Ric James, of Kent, Wash., staffs a picket line. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Associated Press

EVERETT — Dean Lincoln figures that the wages he lost during four weeks on strike from Boeing Co. are nothing compared to what he’d have paid in additional health care costs if striking Machinists had agreed to the first contract the company offered.

But Lincoln also had only been back on the job for a month — after being laid off for 2 1/2 years — before the strike began Sept. 2, so it was tough to lose a paycheck. The Lake Stevens resident will be voting today to accept a revised offer and return to work, but he’s unhappy it had to come down to a strike at all.

“They should’ve offered it the first time,” Lincoln said this week, while picketing outside Boeing’s sprawling facilities in Everett, north of Seattle, where 747s and 777s are assembled.

About 18,400 members of the Machinists union in the Puget Sound area, Gresham, Ore. and Wichita, Kan. will vote today on the revised contract. The union’s leaders, who reached agreement with Boeing late last week, recommend that workers accept it.

A simple majority is needed to approve or reject the offer. If workers approve it, they would immediately stop striking and could return to work for their next shift.

Union leaders say the new tentative agreement addresses pensions and health care benefits, the issues most important to a membership that averages 49 years of age and is paid an average of $59,000 a year.

The union had recommended that members reject the previous contract offer over those same issues, prompting the first Machinists strike at Boeing in a decade.

For some members, this year’s contract battle also was about making up for what they perceived to be a sub-par contract negotiated in 2002, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that pummeled the aerospace industry and led to thousands of layoffs at Boeing. Now that Boeing’s fortunes are improving, the union argued that workers should benefit, too.

Under the proposed contract, workers would see no changes to current health care premiums, a move union leaders say will save members between $2,000 and $4,000 per year over the rejected offer. That offer increased premiums for workers in response to soaring health care costs nationwide.

The new agreement also increases pension payouts by nearly 17 percent to $70 per month for every year worked. The previous offer increased that figure to $66, from $60 currently.

There is no general wage increase, but workers would receive lump sum payments totaling about $11,000 over the contract’s three years. Boeing dropped a plan to offer incentive payments based on whether the company meets or exceeds financial targets.

Scott Martin of Sedro-Woolley plans to vote for the contract because of the provision that keeps health care costs at current levels. He said he wasn’t as concerned about pensions as some of his colleagues are because, at age 40, retirement seems far off. A more immediate concern was paying his bills while out on strike, and he had to borrow a little money from his parents to get through.

“It’s always a tough question whether it was worth it because you never get that money back,” he said of the lost wages. “But sometimes you’ve got to stand up and fight.”

But other Machinists — especially some who are closer to retirement — say the union should hold out for an even better deal.

R.C. Cook of Everett turns 55 this year, and after 24 years working on various airplanes he would like to retire soon. He’s disappointed the new contract didn’t increase pension payouts even further and that there is still a penalty for early retirement.

Cook also worries his fellow union members are only thinking of superficial perks — like the approximately $5,000 payment that would come late this year — and aren’t concerned enough about issues like job security and weekend work. He’ll vote against the proposed contract.

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