Exchanging positions at the IAM 751 union hall in Seattle are (standing left to right) Tom Wroblewski, District 751 president, Mark Blondin, Aerospace Coordinator, and Tom Buffenbarger, International President, from the IAM, and Doug Kight, vice president of Human Resources and Tom Easley, Labor Relations director, from Boeing.
The IAM and Boeing opened contract talks in Seattle May 9th, in an attempt to resolve issues well ahead of the September 3rd expiration. Proposals by both sides centered around the issues of pay, pensions, health care and job security. The contract covers more than 26,000 employees in the Puget Sound, Portland, Oregon, Wichita, Kansas and Southern California.
Boeing's proposals include replacing the company's defined benefit pension plan, currently at $70/month per year of service, with an "enhanced 401(k)" for newly hired employees. Additional proposed take-aways include greater sharing in rising medical costs, eliminating retiree medical for new hires, modification of the COLA formula and eliminating Wichita from the mostly West Coast bargaining unit.
The union has threatened to strike over the company's pension demands. Tom Wroblewski, president of District 751 in Seattle, said in an interview Friday that pay and health care details were unsatisfactory as well.
"They're posturing to take away benefits that we've fought hard for," he said, adding a jab about Boeing's much-delayed new jetliner: "That strategy is as flawed as their 787 production system."
One thing both sides agree upon is the need to increase starting wages for newly hired employees. The base rates for these jobs - 400 classifications ranging from machinists to assemblers to painters to inspectors - have remained stagnant since 1992. But Boeing has also said the 70% of its workforce that has reached the maximum rate (a process which takes over 6 years, currently) are already compensated higher than the market and proposes no increases there.
"Boeing has seen a 38% increase in profits in the first quarter of 2008 alone," said Western Territory GVP Lee Pearson, "yet they propose cuts and higher costs to the very workforce that makes them successful. Their proposals were strike issues in 2005 and they will be again in 2008 unless they're serious about bargaining an agreement that will reward IAM members for their labor and their support across the board. A strike is always a last resort, but with proposals like cutting out Wichita, Boeing should remember three years ago - the Machinists Union doesn't leave people behind."
Boeing endured a month-long strike in 2005. The issue of separating Wichita from the master agreement and paying them less than the Northwest was a key factor. The current 36-month accord kept the unit intact.