Boeing contract talks "aren't bearing any fruit," said Machinists union negotiator Mark Blondin, suggesting a strike in September is likely if the company's offer doesn't improve.

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The lead negotiator at the Machinists union said today that contract talks with Boeing are “in deep trouble” and implied that a strike in September is likely if the company’s offer doesn’t improve.

Contract talks between Boeing and the International Association of Machinists (IAM) union “aren’t bearing any fruit,” Mark Blondin, lead negotiator for the union, said Tuesday.

“So far, all they are talking about is take-aways,” Blondin said. “If that continues over the next couple of weeks, they are in deep trouble.”

Blondin cited company proposals in preliminary talks that would reduce benefits for future hires — specifically shifting their retirement benefits from the current pension plans toward 401(K)-type investment plans and also cutting early retiree medical benefits. Boeing formally presented details of both those proposals Tuesday.

The IAM contract covers more than 26,000 Boeing employees, mostly in the Puget Sound region but also in Portland, Ore., and Wichita, Kan.

Talks began in May to replace the existing contract that expires Sept. 1. They will move into full-time negotiations at the SeaTac Doubletree Inn on August 21.

Blondin said Boeing is “acting right now like it is in bankruptcy court, rather than where they are with a record backlog of orders and record profits.”

“There’s enough orders right now to sustain two or three bargaining cycles and we know it,” he said. “We’re going to get our share of those profits.”

Boeing’s top labor negotiator, Doug Kight, told employees this month that the company will release full details of its final offer to the union by Labor Day weekend, just 8 days after the intensified negotiations begin. The IAM membership will vote on that offer September 3.

The 787 Dreamliner is expected to make its first flight in October, so a plant shutdown in September would be a serious blow to Boeing’s crucial new program.

The last IAM negotiations in 2005 ended in a month-long strike. Blondin said the company has already resurrected two of the issues that led to that strike: the proposal to end early retiree medical benefits for future hires, and a push to carve out the Wichita employees into a separate bargaining unit with a separate contract.

“I’m very surprised Boeing has come out with the same tactics in 2008,” Blondin said. “Our members didn’t stand for those divisive tactics last time. I don’t see it happening this time.”

Blondin’s tough talk came in a teleconference call Tuesday with Wall Street financial analysts and the media. The call was a joint presentation by the IAM and Boeing’s white-collar union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA).

Boeing’s relationship with SPEEA is also in trouble, though the negotiation schedule is not as pressing. The engineers’ contract doesn’t expire until Dec. 1, and the SPEEA contract talks lag the IAM’s by several months.

Yet ahead of formal negotiations, Ray Goforth, executive director of SPEEA, described the atmosphere between the company and his union as “negative.”

He complained of attempts by the company to decertify some smaller SPEEA bargaining units and, like Blondin, he criticized the company’s intention to shift pensions toward 401(K)-style plans for future hires.

“The overall context doesn’t bode well for good faith negotiations,” said Goforth.

In a message to managers Tuesday, Boeing’s Kight gave details of the two controversial retirement proposals that would change pensions and retiree medical benefits for people hired after Jan. 1, 2009.

Kight said the company will separately offer increased pensions for existing employees. His message gave no hint of an impasse in the talks.

“We’re about three weeks away from moving to the hotel for the final phase of negotiations,” Kight wrote. “I am pleased with our progress.”

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or