Boeing's machinists to vote; second union starts talks

Just as 27,000 Boeingba airplane factory workers prepare to vote on a tentative contract reached Monday, Boeing on Wednesday opens what could be tough contract talks with the union representing its 20,000 engineers.

Boeing has been unable to produce planes for 53 days because of the strike by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents Boeing factory workers in Washington state, Oregon and Kansas. With help from federal mediators, Boeing and the IAM reached a tentative agreement Monday night. Boeing shares leaped $6.55, or 15.5%, to $48.91 Tuesday.

The union is strongly recommending members ratify the four-year deal, which would give machinists annual raises of 3% to 5%, a richer pension plan and annual bonuses, including a contract-ratification bonus of at least $5,000 per employee. It would enhance machinists' job security by reducing the amount of work that Boeing has been free to outsource in the past.

At the same time, it would lock in Boeing's production costs for four years. Boeing would retain the right to outsource work to non-Boeing-owned suppliers if needed to cut costs, speed production, gain access to foreign markets or produce components it cannot do in-house.

"This is a win-win," Mark Blondin, the union's top aerospace official, said Tuesday in an interview.

Machinists will vote Saturday whether to ratify the contract. If a majority says yes, Boeing can resume building its commercial airplanes within days.

Today, however, Boeing opens contract talks with the Society for Professional Engineering Employees and Aerospace (SPEEA), which represents its engineering and technical workers. The union is telling its membership these will be "difficult talks" because eight months of preliminary negotiations have been "disappointing."