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The engineers’ union at Boeing voted 89.5 percent in favor of a new three-year contract, the company said Friday. Most of the 18,000 members covered by the contract work in the Seattle area.

Under the labor agreement with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, wages increase 17 percent for the engineers and 15 percent for technical workers. Employee health-care costs will remain at current levels and some company-paid medical coverage will be increased in one of Boeing’s two health plans.

Separately on Friday, Boeing and the Machinists union said rocket machinists, who walked off the job a month ago in a dispute over health benefits, are beginning to cross picket lines and return to work as medical-insurance coverage expires.

More than 200 of the 1,500 workers who struck Boeing’s rocket business in California, Florida and Alabama have returned to work, said Gary Quick, head negotiator for machinists in Huntington Beach, Calif. Machinists at all rocket sites are “slowly trickling in,” Boeing spokesman Robert Villanueva said.

Leisure Care

Retirement firm moving to Seattle

Leisure Care, a fast-growing operator of retirement communities, is moving from Bellevue to a new downtown Seattle headquarters where it will have more elbow room.

The company said it will be moving next year to 17,000 square feet in the Westlake Center office tower. The new space will put the company’s 55 employees all on the same floor, allowing for more collaboration, said marketing director Jason Childers.

The privately owned company operates 40 retirement communities and assisted-living centers.


Video-game studio in Texas to close

Microsoft said Friday that it is shutting down Digital Anvil, a video-game studio based in Austin, Texas.

According to a spokesman, the company is centralizing the studio’s resources in Redmond and will offer positions to Digital Anvil employees who want to relocate.

The restructuring will be finished by the end of January, the company said. Microsoft acquired the studio in 2000 for an undisclosed amount.

Rosetta Inpharmatics

Merck’s unit here not part of closure

Merck’s Seattle unit, Rosetta Inpharmatics, will not be one of the facilities closed as part of a major cost-cutting plan, a spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical giant said Friday.

But Janet Skidmore did not rule out job cuts at the bioinformatics leader, acquired by Merck for $630 million in 2001.

On Monday, Merck announced plans to eliminate about 7,000 jobs, or 11 percent of its work force, and close five plants and three research sites by the end of 2008.

“The cuts are company wide,” Skidmore said.

She added that Rosetta, which has about 300 employees, will continue to be a “very important” research facility for Merck.

Washington Mutual

2 ad agencies vie for thrift account

Washington Mutual has narrowed the list of finalists for its estimated $100 million-plus primary advertising account to two agencies, Adweek reported Friday.

The contest is between Publicis Groupe’s Publicis West in Seattle and Leo Burnett in Chicago, according to the trade publication.

The account is up for review after 14 years with Interpublic Group’s Sedgwick Rd. unit in Seattle.


Insurer seeks to buy back stock

Safeco may buy back as much as 8 percent of its shares under an increased repurchase program.

The board of the Seattle-based auto and home insurer authorized buying as many as 10 million shares, including stock that still is available for repurchase under previous programs, Safeco said.

Shares of Safeco rose 38 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $56.62 Friday.


Ex-exec named to Disney board

Former Starbucks Chief Executive Orin Smith was named to Walt Disney Co.’s board of directors, his first high-profile assignment since retiring from the specialty-coffee company in March.

Smith helped oversee Starbucks’ growth from a private, regional company to a multibillion-dollar public company with 9,000 stores in 39 countries upon his retirement.

Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz serves on the board of directors for DreamWorks Animation SKG.

Cingular Wireless

“Push-to-talk” feature fills gap

Filling a big gap in its product lineup, Cingular Wireless is adding “push-to-talk” service, hoping to make up for lost time with novel features such as icons that show if a contact is available to speak.

The new service, being launched Monday, leaves T-Mobile USA as the only national U.S. cell company without walkie-talkie capabilities, a service first introduced by Nextel that has proven immensely popular.

Cingular, owned jointly by AT&T (formerly SBC Communications) and BellSouth, is charging $10 per month for unlimited national usage. A family plan costing $20 a month allows up to five phones to use the new service.

Compiled from Seattle Times business staff, Bloomberg News and The Associated Press