Boeing’s contract dispute with its white-collar engineering union looks all but over.
A day before talks resume with the company, the union president Tuesday recommended to his bargaining team dropping the outstanding demand to retain the traditional pension for new hires, the one remaining major sticking point in negotiations.
“I think the pension is dead,” said Tom McCarty, president of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA).
When negotiations with management resume Wednesday, he indicated that the union will seek only relatively minor adjustments to the contract offer for its nonengineer technical staff — changes that won’t cost the company more money.
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McCarty spoke after the union-bargaining team met to discuss strategy a day ahead of the resumption of talks. Guided by federal mediators, that negotiating session at the Sea-Tac Hilton will be the first since a contract vote split the union a week ago.
In that ballot, the engineers unit — two-thirds of the members — voted 54 percent in favor of accepting the contract, while the remaining technical staff, known as Techs, voted 52.8 percent to reject it and authorized a strike.
Boeing’s offer retains the traditional pension for current employees but replaces it with a 401(k)-style retirement-savings plan for new hires.
“Fifteen thousand or so engineers have accepted the company’s offer that eliminated (the pension) for new hires,” said McCarty on Tuesday. “I don’t think we’ll be able to keep that for the Techs.”
McCarty said the vote outcome left many Techs “quite resigned to the outcome.”
“Clearly the engineers have accepted the contract and that has left the Technical community kind of abandoned and isolated,” McCarty said.
“We want a solution that will respect the Technical unit’s interests and restore the unity to our union,” he said. “That’s been called into question, there’s no doubt about that. I want to restore that.”
McCarty said that since the Techs have lower average salaries than the engineers, their priorities are different and that this can be addressed with adjustments in their part of the contract.
A key proposal is to raise the guaranteed portion of the annual 5 percent general wage increases in the Tech contract and correspondingly reduce the portion allocated to individuals according to merit.
Such a change in the distribution of wages “wouldn’t cost more money for the Boeing company,” McCarty said.
McCarty said the Techs — almost 8,000 of them in the Puget Sound region — still have bargaining power because they could strike without the engineers. But he added that both the union and the company want to avoid this.
So is the union close to a deal?
“I think we are,” McCarty said. “I don’t think there are very insurmountable barriers left.”
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org