Boeing engineers union expected to reject contract

SEATTLE -- Boeing Co.'s union of engineers and technical workers is expected to reject the aerospace giant's first contract offer when mail-in ballots are counted Monday evening.

Union leaders for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, or SPEEA, have recommended that its 23,000 members reject Boeing's four-year contract offers.

"All indications are that it will fail," SPEEA executive director Ray Goforth said Monday afternoon. Votes will be tallied after the 5 p.m. Monday deadline.

Goforth said the contract offers _ one covering about 15,500 engineers and another covering about 7,500 technical workers _ give the company too much power to change provisions. It also includes higher out-of-pocket costs for medical benefits and drastically changing retirement benefits at a time of record company profits.

"This contract is unsalvageable," Goforth said.

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said the company's offer is "market-leading." He added that Boeing wants to maintain a competitive workforce as well as remain competitive as a company. "We think the contract that is on the table does that," Alder said Monday.

Boeing's vice president of engineering for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Mike Delaney, has said the company will move engineering work out of the Puget Sound region if it is forced to give local employees higher compensation and benefits, the Seattle Times reported last week.

"We'll keep hiring people to build 737s. But slowly over time, if you become uncompetitive, you have to deal with the arbitrage and leverage other resources," Delaney told The Times editorial board last week.

Alder declined to elaborate on Delaney's remarks. "We'll let the voting process play out. Whether yes or no, we're prepared to go and do whatever the next step is," he said.

Both sides said they're prepared to negotiate Tuesday if the contract is rejected.

Boeing engineers and technical workers have rallied at various sites in the Puget Sound region in recent weeks. The members largely work in the Seattle area with some in Oregon, Utah and California.

The current contract expires Oct. 6, but virtually every major provision will remain in place, union spokesman Bill Dugovich said.

The union's Goforth said no strike is imminent. A strike can't occur without a separate membership vote.

"We haven't even sought strike sanction because our focus is on getting a deal," he said Monday, adding that the union could take other "work-to-rule" measures.

Boeing's offer raises overall compensation for engineers by 3.5 percent annually for the next four years. The increase for technical workers would be 3 percent the first year and 2.5 percent for the next three years. The union says the pay raises do not keep up with inflation.

The company has proposed switching retirement benefits for new hires from a pension plan to a 401K plan. The union says the new plan would provide 40 percent fewer dollars to the retiree.