SPEEA vote split: Some head back to the bargaining table, strike still looms

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boeingEVERETT — The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) Union split over a vote on whether or not to accept Boeing Co.’s latest contract offers, effectively sending some of the union and its 22,000 members back to the bargaining table.

More than 18,000 members voiced their opinion in union-wide voting that ended at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The group, made up of Boeing engineers and technicians, are split over whether or not to accept the contracts offered by Boeing.

According to union leaders, the engineers voted to accept the new contract 5,691 to 4,810. The technical group rejected the latest contract offer 3,014 to 2,801. That group also voted to authorize a strike.

According to leaders, the tech group will return to the bargaining table in hopes of reaching a new agreement with a national mediator. If not, a strike is still possible.

A split decision by SPEEA hasn’t been issued since the 1990s.

Leaders of SPEEA recently urged members to reject Boeing’s latest contract, which included a cut in the retirement contribution plan. Union leaders have previously said a strike wouldn’t start until March. 1.

Formal negotiations with SPEEA began April 19. SPEEA’s contract with Boeing was scheduled to expire Oct. 6, 2012, but was extended. The contracts covered about 15,600 professional engineers and 7,800 technical workers, mostly in the Puget Sound region. Boeing executives previously have asked SPEEA members to roll over on the union’s 2008 provisions, with one change to the contract that would initiate a 401(k) retirement plan instead of a pension plan.

After the vote, Boeing officials released a statement saying they are pleased with the engineers, but “deeply disappointed that technical employees rejected the compnay’s best-and-final offer.”

SPEEA leaders called the new plans a “significant cut” in retirement contribution. Ray Goforth, the executive director of the SPEEA, said the contract was largely a good offer, outside of a “poison pill” retirement package. He said everyone hired beginning in March would have 40 percent less in their retirement plan compared to those hired prior to March 1.

“The employer has inserted a poison pill into the contract, that would end up hurting everyone,” Goforth said.

Dennis Davaz, a SPEEA member, said he voted to not accept the new contract.

“There’s no reason for a take away right now with as well as Boeing is doing,” Davaz said.

But Boeing officials said they put forth a substantial contract with adequate benefits.

“It’s important that we protect our competitiveness in the long-run, even if that means some short-term pain,” Boeing Co.’s President Ray Connor said.

Connor said the latest offer was one that recognized the “tremendous contributions and skills” that engineers brought to Boeing.

“Nobody wins in a strike,” Connor said. “While hurting Boeing and our employees, it would also impact our customers who’ve put their trust in Boeing’s people and products.”

If the techs go on strike, all commercial production will stop. Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement following the vote, saying he was concerned about the split vote, and he urged the union and the Boeing Co. to come to an agreement.

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  • wedged

    Ah, the union claims that having two different retirement plans would eventually put a wedge between the membership. Well gee look who put a wedge between the membership, the Union! What the historical reason was to agree to two separate contracts rather than a signal Master Agreement,that has a united vote, I do not know but the next move should be for Mr GoForth to step down and take a hike, or decertify SPEEA and join IAM. You would have to be an idiot to strike and walk a line when as a majority the contract would have past

  • KnowWhen to hodem

    The company's strategy worked perfectly. this was the time when the union was holding excellent cards to maximize economic gain. Instead the profs folded.

  • Disappointed

    Sadly, "wedged" is right. The bottom fell out of the boat for SPEEA. The union leadership botched the PR war campaign. The very first, insulting offer should have included strike authorization from the start. Instead of "striking" while the brand was hot, they waited and delayed until tempers had cooled. Self concern won out.

  • BeGladYouHaveaJob

    Boeing asked the Union to accept the same benefits as the rest of the company. It sounds like new hires in all other areas of the company are on a 401K. Also I read that all other employees pay 20% of their medical monthly premiums yet Boeing agreed to let SPEEA continue at 10%. I think they should be happy to have jobs in this economy. IMO They were given a fair offer . The ones who looked at the big picture approved the contract.

  • Disappointed

    This "economy" has been one of record profitability for Boeing, as they have surpassed Airbus for the first time in the last 10 straight years. I'm sorry, but the economy argument doesn't hold any weight against the obvious signs of economic prosperity the company is exhibiting. A stock buyback program? a $22 million bonus for its CEO? Record orders/profits/deliveries? A 4000+ aircraft backlog worth a magnitude of billions of dollars? Lucky to have a job? More like lucky to find enough people to fill the spots. For Boeing, business has never been better.

  • SPEEA Member 1980

    Goforth is no Bofferding. Ray, you screwed us, you're going to send us 7,000 SPEEA techs out to walk a picket-line where we'll watch the 15,000 SPEEA Prof's crossing everyday. This is where the word "absurd" actually earns its pay. Please resign.

  • Veteran

    I don't understand why people, who obviously aren't a part of the bargaining unit, can have such a negative opinion of the employees, and representatives of those employees. When those people have walked a couple of thousand miles in that bargaining unit, and paid their union dues, they might be in a position to criticize. Other than that, negative criticism betrays deflection from their dissatisfaction with their own circumstances.

    Executives don't engineer or build anything. In most cases, they ask the impossible, care nothing about their employees, will take the credit when things go well, and deflect blame when things go badly. They squeeze what they can out of their employees, not for the good of the company, but for their own short term gains; then move own, before the repercussions of their poor decisions are realized.

    The execs make the messes. The employees clean them up. That's always been the case. Yet, those execs would secure their own wealth, while creating financial hardships for those that have always bailed them out.

    I agree with "Disappointed".

    The professionals made their choose, and the techs made theirs. That shouldn't be a problem for anyone but the professionals who will be expected to fill in for the techs while they're on strike (should it come to that). The minute it becomes a problem for the company, the company will give the techs what they want.

    Boeing doesn't appreciate any of its employees, until they are forced to acknowledge the contribution they are making. They have a history of only doing that when they have experienced what it's like to be without them. They'll try to shift the work to other employees, or subcontractors, who will make a mess that the tech will be cleaning to for months and months after they're back on the job.

    Allowing a strike, always ends up costing Boeing more than just doing that right thing to begin with. But, because the execs are usually short-term, there's no one to remember the lessons learned from prior strikes. Not too bright.

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