Deadline looms for Boeing strike

Negotiators for Boeing and the machinists union have until midnight PT Friday to avert a strike that could cost Boeing $3 billion a month and put added pressure on the U.S. economy.

More than 80% of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union members who voted Wednesday rejected Boeing's ba "best and final" contract offer and voted to launch a strike. The strike, which could have begun on Thursday, was delayed at least 48 hours when IAM and management negotiators agreed to keep bargaining in response to requests from federal mediators and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The two-day contract extension left open the possibility that a strike could be delayed again if negotiators believe they're so close to reaching a settlement that continuing talks, perhaps over the weekend, might be fruitful. But union leaders took a harder stance after IAM members erupted in anger about the two-day delay.

Tom Wroblewski, president of Machinists District Lodge 751, and chief negotiator Mark Blondin assured members that the strike would proceed on Saturday if management fails to offer acceptable contract terms by midnight.

Boeing faces a likely revenue drain of $3 billion to $3.5 billion a month from a strike, and could see its high-profile 787 Dreamliner and two other new aircraft programs delayed.

The 787 is more than 18 months behind schedule already, and a strike would push deliveries back even more.

A lengthy strike at Boeing, which is among the leading U.S. exporters, also could affect the U.S. economy.

Gregoire, a Democrat, stepped into the situation late Wednesday in hopes of avoiding significant economic pain for her state, where Boeing employs 76,800 people and where the aerospace sector has a $6.4 billion annual payroll.

In an interview Friday, the governor said she believes the sides were nearing an agreement and "just ran out of time."

"For every Boeing job, there are three or four other jobs in the state that are indirectly impacted," she said.

"And if there's a chance to avoid having people go without a paycheck, to avoid a delay to the very important 787 project, and to avoid the adverse effects on our economy of a strike at Boeing, I think 48 hours is well worth the time."

Union leaders criticized Boeing's pay offer as inadequate and are seeking more job security protection. Boeing has offered the 27,000-member union annual raises of 5%, 3% and 3% over three years.