Whale Rider

Unity is Our Strength
Nov 9, 2004
Total Time
Friday, September 2, 2005 - Page updated at 12:43 AM

Boeing strike is on!

The work stoppage comes at a crucial time for Boeing.
Jet orders and deliveries have recovered strongly over the past year and the new 787 Dreamliner has been selling well.

Boeing's largest labor union forcefully rejected a three-year contract proposal from the company yesterday and began picketing plants in three states shortly after midnight.

It is the Machinists' first strike since a 69-day walkout in 1995.

"It is an insulting, take-away, job-stealing offer," said Mark Blondin, president of International Association of Machinists, District 751. Blondin announced the results to loud cheers at the union's headquarters near Boeing Field.

Boeing said it was "disappointed with the outcome" of the vote. "No one ever benefits from a strike," said a statement from the company.

By a wide margin, union members heeded Blondin's earlier call to walk off the job.

Eighty-six percent of Machinists in the Puget Sound area, Portland and Wichita, Kan., voted "yes" to a strike. In Wichita, 93 percent voted in favor of the strike.Curt White, 52, a union steward who works at the delivery center at Boeing Field, exulted at the strength of the vote.

"We are in seventh heaven," he said.

Boeing said it will begin shutting down its airplane production immediately.

"We don't intend to assemble airplanes during this strike, yet we will continue focusing on support for our customers and their in-service fleets, performing design and development activities, and conducting other meaningful work," the company said in a statement.

Boeing also indicated non-Machinists could face furloughs if the strike goes on for a while. "Employees not represented by the IAM should report to work ... as usual, and all employees willing to continue working will be afforded the opportunity to do so for as long as there is meaningful work to perform."

There were no indications last night of when Boeing and the union might return to the bargaining table.

Boeing did not make any immediate overtures to renew talks, while the Machinists said Boeing will have to move first.

"They've got our proposal. They know our position. Hopefully now they'll take it seriously," Blondin said.

The strike puts an immediate halt to airplane deliveries, cutting Boeing's revenue stream. It could also cause long-term harm to Boeing's credibility with airline customers in need of planes.

"It really depends on the situation — Delta, happy to defer. Some of the Europeans, happy to defer. But many carriers are going to want planes now. And they'll threaten to switch [to Airbus] or threaten penalty payments," said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group.

Aboulafia added that a strike could backfire on Machinists if it lasts too long.
In 10 years, when Boeing gears up to build the model that will replace the 737, many of today's Machinists will have retired, Aboulafia said, but within Boeing "there will be enough corporate memory" to argue for more outsourcing of components in order to reduce Boeing's future vulnerability to strikes.

Boeing's sale of its commercial-airplanes operation in Wichita is an example of this, Aboulafia said.

A short strike would have a minimal impact on the state's economy as a whole, said state economic forecaster Chang Mook Sohn.

The approximately 16,500 Boeing machinists in Puget Sound earn between $22 and $31 an hour under the current contract. Their lost wages in an eight-week strike would exceed $100 million.
That's tiny compared with the state's yearly personal income of about $200 billion, said Sohn.

In addition, strikers draw benefits from the union and use their savings to maintain day-to-day spending during a strike.

The union pays $150 a week to members beginning in the third week of a strike, said union spokeswoman Connie Kelliher.

Blondin had called on the union's 18,300 members to shut Boeing down after the company delivered its best-and-final contract offer Tuesday.

They followed his advice — in a big way — and averted a repeat of the outcome that embarrassed the union in 2002. Then, 62 percent of Machinists voted "no" on Boeing's offer, but only 61 percent voted "yes" to a strike — short of the two-thirds vote needed. Consequently, the proposed contract automatically went into effect.

"They had their way with our members in 2002," said Blondin.

"I think they thought they were going to use their same cut and divide tactics they used last time" to avoid a strike.

"They gambled again and they lost," he said.

Union members began walking picket lines throughout the Puget Sound area and in Portland shortly after the expiration of the current contract at 12:01 a.m. today.

Roughly 900 Machinists in Wichita, which is two hours ahead of Seattle, kicked off the strike last night.

Unhappiness with Boeing's offer on pensions and health care was the top reason many Machinists voted against the proposal.

Paul Foster of Arlington was the last voter at the Machinists' Everett union hall.

"I voted to strike," the 49-year-old plane inspector said as he climbed aboard his motorcycle.

"It was a very bad proposal. The company has 400 planes on back order and the contract they're offering now is worse than in 2002."

Steve Pewitt, an expediter at the Everett plant for 24 years, said he voted to strike because he doesn't trust the company. Three years ago, he said, he voted to accept Boeing's contract offer because the economy was in such bad shape. That's not the case now, he said.

"What bugs me the most is that they tried to divide the older members and the younger ones. They assumed that older members wouldn't care about the younger generation and that the younger members wouldn't be thinking about their retirement," said Pewitt, 45.

Boeing janitor and former mechanic Paula Stark, 46, said her biggest concern is job security. Under the proposed contract, she said, her job would be eliminated.

"I'm tired of hearing [about] big managers getting $600,000 because they've retired," the Sedro-Woolley resident said. "Come on, share it."

Hundreds of union members walked off their jobs around 10 a.m. yesterday at the Everett plant and marched across the street to vote at the union hall.

Chanting "strike, strike, strike," blowing whistles and pounding on makeshift water-cooler drums, they rallied their colleagues to vote down the contract and in favor of a strike. Many held signs reading: "Friends don't let friends cross the picket line."

"Last time, we did the company a favor because times were tough," said wing builder Duane Torkkola.

"They're making money now, with huge profits, so there's no reason why they can't share the wealth."

"We don't hate this company. We are this company," said Machinist Bob Merritt, 55, who has worked at Boeing for 26 years.

The atmosphere is different from 2002 , said Myung Kim, also a wing builder.

"This time people are ready for a strike," said Kim, who has worked for Boeing for 18 years. "They give us a little bit of cash and take away more later. It's cheating. They treat us like babies."

Many union members have created strike funds that they've been adding to for months, said 737 inspector Tom Witschel.

"We have a savings account there just in case we have to hold out for a while," said Witschel, 43, of Bothell.

"I'll wait a month and see where it's at. I'm hoping that they just low-balled us, that they'll wait a week and start bargaining again."