So much for the pleasantries. Leaders of the Machinists union at Boeing yesterday called the company's initial offer on a new contract an...

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So much for the pleasantries.

Leaders of the Machinists union at Boeing yesterday called the company’s initial offer on a new contract an “insult” that “failed to come close on any of [the union’s] key issues.”

The angry rhetoric shattered an unusual calm that had surrounded talks between Boeing and the largest union at the company since negotiations opened June 10.

The existing three-year contract between Boeing and the International Association of Machinists (IAM), District 751, which represents 18,500 workers, expires shortly after midnight Sept. 2.

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Yesterday’s comments do not mean the two sides cannot find common ground in the final days of talks.

Indeed, Boeing and IAM representatives held substantive meetings throughout the afternoon, even after the union’s fiery remarks had been disseminated to commercial-airplane plants in Everett, Renton, Auburn, Portland and Wichita, Kan.

Boeing delivered its offer to union leaders early yesterday morning.

Information

Boeing negotiations page: www.boeing.com/special/

negotiations/

Machinists negotiations page: www.iam751.org/contract2005/

Negotiators have been holding round-the-clock talks at the Doubletree Hotel in SeaTac since Aug. 15, but specific proposals with hard numbers had not been exchanged until yesterday.

When the data arrived, the Machinists were not pleased.

A statement posted on the IAM Web site shortly after noon said the proposal “fell well short,” particularly on the union’s priority items: “very meager increase in pensions, takeaways in health care, virtually no job security provisions.”

“Boeing has tripled their profits mainly because of your efforts,” the statement said.

“The thanks you get is a direct slap in the face.”

Measured statement

Boeing countered with a measured statement to managers from Jerry Calhoun, the company’s chief negotiator.

Calhoun praised the offer’s merits but disclosed no details.

“The offer we presented is balanced and competitive, respects the contributions of our team and compares favorably with recent contract settlements in our industry,” Calhoun said.

Chaz Bickers, a Boeing spokesman, said the company and the union jointly agreed not to disseminate specifics beyond the negotiating table.

Still, he reinforced Calhoun’s position that the offer improves pay and benefits over the contract signed in 2002. But he also indicated nothing is yet etched in stone.

“We have a very solid starting point here, and an offer that really compares very favorably at the leading edge of the industry,” Bickers said.

Union scale

Also yesterday, the union added a color-coded graphic to its Web site that indicates how talks are going, much as the Homeland Security Department uses colors to designate the likelihood of terrorist attacks inside the U.S.

The Machinists’ scale ranges from green, which indicates talks are “making progress,” to red, which indicates “company is not listening, strike is looming.”

Yesterday the union pegged talks at orange: “takeaways being proposed by company.”

The Machinists said they immediately set to work on a counteroffer yesterday but did not indicate when it would be delivered to Boeing.

Boeing has promised to deliver it’s best-and-final offer to the union no later than Tuesday.

Machinists will vote whether to accept or reject the offer next Thursday.

David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724 or dbowermaster@seattletimes.com