Members of the two distinct bargaining groups in Boeing’s white-collar union have split over a proposed four-year contract extension, with the engineers voting to approve and the technical staff voting to reject the company offer.
This means the two bargaining units of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) — one covering 12,764 engineers and the other 4,705 technical staff — will have significantly different contracts for at least the next two years. The SPEEA contracts cover members mostly in Washington state, though also some employees in Oregon, Utah and California.
“SPEEA is a very democratic union and these results clearly bear that out,” said SPEEA President Joel Funfar who, along with the rest of the union’s seven-member executive board, had recommended approval of the contract.
“The members had their say, and we respect their decisions,” Funfar said in a statement. “The engineers have a new contract, and the technical workers will now look to full negotiations in 2022.”
Boeing Chief Engineer and Senior Vice President of Engineering Greg Hyslop said in a statement that management had hoped the four-year contract extension would benefit both groups, but is pleased that at least the engineers ratified the agreement.
The ballots were counted at SPEEA headquarters Monday night, revealing that the engineers approved the contract offer by a close vote of 3,837 to accept versus 3,658 to reject.
The technical staff turned down the contract offer by a vote of 1,268 to accept versus 1,654 to reject.
The new agreement takes effect immediately for the engineers and runs until Oct. 6, 2026.
The technical staff remain covered by their existing contract, which remains in place until Oct. 6, 2022.
The proposed contract emerged last month from closely held talks between the union leadership and management. The two sides had met to resolve a dispute over Boeing’s process for awarding salary increases, then decided to broaden it into this more expansive contract agreement.
The new contract approved for the engineers provides 5.5% total compensation increases in raises and bonuses each year for the next two years, 5% in 2022, and then 4.5% for each of the subsequent four years.
The deal also boosts the annual bonus awarded for meeting company performance targets by increasing it from 3.85% of eligible earnings to 5% of eligible earnings.
In addition, the engineers will be entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity/paternity leave as well as eligibility for the state’s Family and Medical Leave benefits. This doesn’t apply to the technical staff.
The outcome of the vote was not easily predicted, and the closeness of the result extended the count by more than five hours.
Despite the recommendation to approve by SPEEA’s executive board, the union council reps — the foot soldiers who represent the union to members in the offices and on the factory floor — neither endorsed nor rejected it.
The union’s engineering council reps voted 35-24 against recommending approval of the deal, while the technical staff council reps voted 20-13 against. But neither group reached a decisive vote to recommend rejecting the contract.
Those most opposed to the proposed contract among the technical staff argued that agreeing to a deal two years ahead of the current contract’s expiration suited management by removing the union’s negotiating leverage.
One, who asked for anonymity because of the emotion around the issue, reacted angrily to the union leadership negotiating in secret and characterized the deal as “being shoved down our throats.”
However, the split result is probably the worst outcome for the technical staff. The lack of unity with the engineers weakens the union and reduces the leverage for technical staff bargaining in 2022, when Boeing will clearly be reluctant to offer anything better than the engineers have accepted.
Meanwhile, for the next two years, the technical staff will miss out on the compensation hikes and added benefits the engineers just accepted.