Monday, November 3, 2008

Machinists ratify Boeing pact, ending strike

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Contract offers job protections

Machinists union members have ratified a new contract with Boeing Co., ending an eight-week strike that cut the airplane maker's profits and stalled jetliner deliveries even as world demand was surging.

Workers were expected to return to Boeing's commercial airplane factories, which have been closed since the Sept. 6 walkout, starting last night.

The vote Saturday by members of the union, which represents about 27,000 workers at plants in Washington state, Oregon, and Kansas, was about 74 percent in favor of the proposal five days after the two sides tentatively agreed to the deal and union leaders recommended its approval.

"This contract gives the workers at Boeing an opportunity to share in the extraordinary success this company has achieved over the past several years," Mark Blondin, the union's chief negotiator, said. "It also recognizes the need to act with foresight to protect the next generation of aerospace jobs. These members helped make Boeing the company it is today, and they have every right to be a part of its future."

The union has said the contract protects more than 5,000 factory jobs, prevents the outsourcing of certain positions, and preserves healthcare benefits. It also promises pay increases over four years rather than three, as outlined in earlier offers.

The union members, including electricians, painters, mechanics, and other production workers, have lost an average of about $7,000 in base pay since the strike began. They had rejected earlier proposals by the company, headquartered in Chicago.

It was the union's fourth strike against Boeing in two decades and its longest since 1995. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers staged strikes against Boeing for 24 days in 2005, 69 days in 1995, and 48 days in 1989.

"This new contract addresses the union's job security issues while enabling Boeing to retain the flexibility needed to run the business . . . and allows us to remain competitive," said Scott Carson, Boeing Commercial Airplanes' CEO.

The work stoppage was costing the company an estimated $100 million per day in deferred revenue and postponing delivery of its long-awaited 787 jetliner, which has already been delayed three times, and other commercial planes.

Boeing has said its order backlog has swollen to a record $349 billion in value.

It remains unclear how long it would take Boeing's commercial aircraft business to return to pre-strike production levels, but the company's chief financial officer, James Bell, has said Boeing hopes it would take less than two months.

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