Strike looming for Boeing engineers?

November 21, 2012

(Flickr/Seth Anderson)

Chicago-based Boeing Co. has almost 23,000 engineers and other technical workers, mostly based in Seattle. Those employees have been working without a contract since Oct. 6. 

On Wednesday, the union said those workers aren’t happy with the company’s latest offer - and that a strike could be possible.

"Right now, the hard issues are that the company is insisting upon cutting the limits of pay growth, cutting our pensions and shifting a significant amount of medical costs," said Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA). "The contrast to that is the company just increased executive compensation by double digits, bonuses equivalent to a year's salary, increased the stock dividend last December and reports are it's about to increase again."

Goforth called it a "strange decoupling" of rewards.

"Our members are the ones helping to generate these profits," he said.

At issue is the percentage of bonus pay for the workers. SPEEA represents two groups: the engineers and "technical" workers, people who are liasons between the engineer and machinists on the factory floors. 

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said the company's offer presented to the union on Tuesday represented "big steps" from the offer that 96 percent of union workers rejected last month. 

"We’ve said all along it’s going to take movement on all sides," Alder said. "We took a pretty big move yesterday. We’re really anxious to hear what SPEEA’s response. The ball is in their court at this point."

Details are here, but the wage increase for engineers's four-year contract would be 4.5 percent in year one, 4 percent in year two; 4.5 percent in year three and 4 percent the final year. 

According to the union, about 17,000 of the 23,000 workers are engineers, who have an average pay of $112,000. Engineers in that unit have an average tenure of being at Boeing for more than a decade, SPEEA said. About 7,000 of the technical workers have an average pay closer to $76,800.

Goforth described the mood of union members as "extremely frustrated" and indicated they were not likely to accept this most recent offer. He said a strike was possible.

"The company seems to be leading us there," he said.

Both sides are meeting in Seattle this afternoon. It's expected to be their last meeting before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.