Machinists who work at Boeing plants in Washington, Oregon and Kansas voted to strike with an overwhelming 86 percent vote.

Share story

Machinists who work at Boeing plants in Washington, Oregon and Kansas voted to strike with an overwhelming 86 percent vote.

The current contract expires at 12:01 A.M. Friday, and some union members spent Thursday afternoon marshalling their picket signs and other gear to begin the strike.The International Association of Machinists, District 751, represents 18,300 workers in the Puget Sound area, Gresham, Ore., and Wichita, Kansas.

Many members said the contract offered inadequate improvements in retirement benefits and required workers to pay too much of their medical insurance premiums.

The Machinists have struck two times in the last 16 years. The strike in 1989 lasted 48 days, the 1995 strike for 69 days.

Reacting to the union vote, Boeing said it was disappointed with the vote. “No one ever benefits from a strike,” said a company statement. “Our goal for these negotiations has always been to reach an agreement that works for our employees and the company, so that we could continue to create jobs and opportunities for everybody associated with Boeing.”

Boeing said employees not represented by the Machinists union “should report to work tomorrow as usual, and all employees willing to continue working will be afforded the opportunity to do so for as long as there is meaningful work to perform.”
If it does not last long, the strike would have a minimal impact on the state’s economy, experts said.

The approximately 16,000 Boeing machinists in Puget Sound earn between $22 and $31 an hour under the current contract, so their lost wages in an eight-week strike would exceed $100 million.

That’s tiny compared with the state’s yearly personal income of about $200 billion, said Chang Mook Sohn, state economic forecaster.

In addition, strikers draw benefits from the union and use their own savings to maintain day-to-day spending during a strike.

“They know that they sooner or later will be back and pick up their checks and continue,” Sohn said. “If (a strike) is reasonably short, then we don’t see any impact at all.”

For machinists, the economic impact is dampened somewhat by union strike benefits. The union pays $150 a week to members beginning in the third week of the strike, said union spokeswoman Connie Kelliher.

During voting on Thursday, workers rallied outside union halls in a strike-charged atmosphere.

Hundreds of union members wearing IAM 751 T-shirts, walked off their jobs around 10 a.m. at the Everett plant and marched across the street to vote at the union hall.

Chanting “strike, strike, strike,” blowing whistles and pounding on makeshift water cooler drums, they rallied their colleagues to vote down the contract and in favor of a strike. A common sign many held read: “Friends don’t let friends cross the picket line.”

“Last time we did the company a favor because times were tough,” said wing builder Duane Torkkola, referring to the 2002 contract that came after the Sept. 11 attacks decimated the airline industry. “They’re making money now, with huge profits, so there’s no reason why they can’t share the wealth.”

Machinists union member Casey Kremer, who was recalled eight months ago, said he voted for a strike in 2002, and was laid off afterwards.

“If we can survive two years without a job, we can survive two months,” said Kremer, 30. “The bonus is not that big; we could have done without it. It’s about medical and all the takeaways.”