Boeing Machinists trickled into a union hall near the company's Renton plant this afternoon, casting votes whether to accept a three-year...

Share story

Boeing Machinists trickled into a union hall near the company’s Renton plant this afternoon, casting votes whether to accept a three-year contract offer and, if not, to decide if a strike will begin at midnight.

Many said they are resigned to the idea of a strike, possibly a long one.

“We can’t afford to go on strike, but we can’t afford this contract,” said Lindsey Good, who has been an interior mechanic for six months. She and her boyfriend, a Boeing Machinist of 18 years, have five children.

“They want to stuff money in this pocket while taking money out of this one,” said Good, who is particularly concerned about a contract that would force her to pay more for prescriptions and take away the survivor benefits of her boyfriend’s pension.

Some 26,000 workers in the Puget Sound area are eligible to vote today. A two-thirds majority is needed to trigger a strike.

Philip Conklin, another Machinist of six months, voted against the contract even though it offers a raise that would give him better pay than some people who have worked there longer.

“My uncle has been here more than 20 years,” Conklin said. “If I sat down at the dinner table with him on Sunday and said, ‘Yeah, that’s a great contract for me,’ we wouldn’t see eye-to-eye.”

For Jimmy Le, who has worked at the company since 1986, it will be unusual if there is no strike.

“Only one time was there no strike,” he recalled. An electronic technician on airplane interiors, Le said that as long as Boeing’s top executives receive big pay increases, so should the Machinists.

“They make good money, and the last two contracts they didn’t give up anything,” Le said.

The calm afternoon in Renton was a contrast to the raucous march of several thousand Machinists from Boeing’s plant to a union hall in Everett this morning. Led by a union motorcycle escort revving their Harley-Davidsons, they shouted “Strike!” in unison, blew horns and beat makeshift drums made from discarded water cooler bottles.

Before the march to the voting hall, many machinists interviewed expressed certainty they will be on strike tomorrow for at least a month and said they are well prepared.

Josh Saintz and his wife Krysta Saintz arrived to vote with their 9-day-old infant cradled in Josh’s burly arms.

Both of them are Machinists with less than two years’ service, so they fall into a category of about 5,000 or 6,000 Machinists low on the wage ladder and who gain the least from the company offer.

Both said they will vote to strike. Josh said his fallback plan is to get part-time work at a former employer, Les Schwab Tire.

The new baby slept soundly through the racket of the marchers’ arrival.

Many other younger Machinists expressed the same dissatisfaction with the Boeing offer’s lack of incentives for those at the company just a year or two.

Alicia Winkler, 24, who distributes and inventories tools for mechanics, sported pierced lips and eyebrows. She said she feels threatened by Boeing’s lack of movement on the issue of subcontracting parts and tools delivery work.

“Mostly I’m concerned about outsourcing. I don’t want to lose my job to someone else,” said Winkler. “We need to stick together as Americans.”

The older generation of Machinists was for the most part equally supportive of the union leadership.

“I’ve been through three strikes,” said Patrick Ferguson, 48. “I’m well-prepared.”

Some Machinists indicated their willingness not only to strike but to stay out for a long time by wearing a black T-shirt with the slogan “Walk the Line till ’09.”

The voting booths at the union hall had been busy all morning before the main march out of the factory. Many Machinists had come early to avoid the lines.

The marchers from the factory carried signs leaving no doubt how most of them will vote.

“The best and final offer is when WE decide,” read one sign.

“Look out, Ford. Here comes McNerney,” read another, referring to Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney and the fact that former commercial airplanes boss Alan Mulally left Boeing since the last strike in 2005 to become CEO at Ford.

Yet others who had come over to the union hall alone — Boeing gave workers an hour off to vote — included some ready to accept the contract.

“There’s a few things in the medical plan I don’t like, but the way times are, it’s a fair contract,” said Tom Yardy, 40, who assembles doors on the 767 and has been with Boeing 20 years. “I really don’t want to go on strike.”

Yardy seemed to be in a minority, but he pointed out that some who plan to vote yes will not advertise it but do so quietly.

There’s no way to gauge if there will be enough yes votes to avoid a strike — one third of the vote — until the ballots are counted tonight.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com