TUKWILA -- SPEEA gets a surprising split decision Tuesday night by Boeing's 23,000 engineers and technical workers. The union's professional group approved the company's contract offer while the technical group rejected the 4-year contract and authorized a strike.
The technical workers won't hit the picket lines yet. They'll return to the bargaining table with the company and federal mediators.
The vote comes as the company is trying to solve battery problems that have grounded its new 787s.
The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace recommended members reject the contract offer because it would not provide pensions to new employees. They would have a 401k retirement plan instead. The union calls that unacceptable, but Chicago-based Boeing says the change is important to the company's future.
The union represents 23,000 employees, mostly in the Puget Sound region. Negotiations began in April and union members rejected one offer in October. If negotiations fail, the union also wants the authority to call a strike. The previous contract expired in November. SPEEA went on strike for 40 days in 2000.
“The company is now living off in their their gated communities in Chicago instead of being here,” said Dwight Rouso, a former Boeing engineer who was involved with the previous strike in 2000. “I think some of that disrespect has returned.”
“I'm very hopeful that we vote down the contract and go back to the table,” said Judy Mogan, Boeing technical worker.
“I figure that the company is doing well and the executives are making a lot of money and they can share some of that,” said Wayne Dimmig, who voted to reject the offer.
The latest labor unrest is happening as U.S. regulators have launched an open-ended review of the 787's design and construction.
Last month a battery on a parked 787 caught fire in Boston. Then on Jan. 16, another 787 had to make an emergency landing in Japan after another battery problem. All 50 787s that Boeing had delivered so far are grounded until the issue is resolved.
The engineers and technical workers in SPEEA work on plans for new planes, as well as solving problems that arise on the factory floor.
Union leaders believe a strike would shut down Boeing production lines in Everett, Wash., where its big planes are made, as well as Renton, Wash., where it cranks out more than one of its widely used 737s. The factory-floor assembly work is done by the members of the International Association of Machinists. The Machinists approved a new, four-year contract in December 2011. That was after a walkout by Machinists in 2008 that contributed to a three-and-a-half year delay in delivering the first 787. It was also a factor in Boeing opening a plant in South Carolina, where laws make it more difficult to unionize.