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Boeing engineers seek strike authorization vote

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[November 14, 2008]  SEATTLE (AP) -- Contract talks covering about 21,000 Boeing Co. white-collar workers appeared to stall Thursday, and their union council called for members to vote on whether to authorize the leadership to call a strike.

Late Thursday, a day after some leaders of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace expressed optimism about reaching a settlement, a notice on the union's Web site accused Boeing of "stalling on responding to SPEEA counterproposals."

DonutsThe unanimous vote by SPEEA's Northwest Council left negotiators to decide the time and manner of conducting the strike authorization vote, union spokesman Bill Dugovich said.

It was believed to be the first time the union has called a strike authorization vote without simultaneously voting on a contract offer.

"A great deal of progress has been made," SPEEA Executive Director and chief negotiator Ray Goforth said. "It would be unfortunate for customers, shareholders and employees of Boeing if we can't reach a deal at the bargaining table."

Boeing spokeswoman Karen M. Fincutter acknowledged "there are still considerable differences" between the two sides but dismissed the decision to seek strike authorization as "a procedural matter" for the union.

Company negotiators still hope to reach agreement on a proposed contract to be submitted to SPEEA members this week, Fincutter said.

Both sides have been working to avoid a second strike at Boeing following an eight-week Machinists union walkout that ended Nov. 2.

Late Wednesday union leaders said a settlement could be only a day away -- but there were no face-to-face talks Thursday at a suburban hotel where the two sides have been meeting, only contacts through a federal mediator. Both sides said they would be ready to meet Friday, but as of late Thursday night no direct talks had been scheduled.


Unresolved issues include wages and other economic provisions, as well as whether about 100 engineers in Ogden, Utah, will be covered by the contract.

SPEEA's two contracts expire on Dec. 1. One covers about 14,200 scientists, engineers and other professionals with average salaries of $82,666 and the other covers nearly 6,700 manual writers, technicians and other hourly workers paid an average of $68,157. Nearly 20,000 are in the Seattle area and about 550 are in Utah, California and Oregon.

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A federal mediator joined the talks Tuesday, the original target date for reaching an agreement.

SPEEA and Boeing committees met for months to discuss parts of the contract before the final phase of bargaining began Oct. 29, a day later than planned because the company's chief negotiator was in federally mediated talks to end the strike by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The walkout halted production at Boeing's commercial airplane factories for eight weeks before the Machinists accepted a four-year contract and began returning to work Nov. 2. The strike cut Chicago-based Boeing's revenue by more than $100 million a day, cost strikers an average of more than $7,000 and forced subcontractors around the world to lay off workers.

A strike by SPEEA would be the sixth major walkout to hit Boeing's commercial airplane operations in two decades. The Machinists previously struck for 28 days in 2005, 69 days in 1995 and 48 days in 1989, and the engineers union struck for 40 days in 2000.


On the Web:

Boeing: http://www.boeing.com/

Union: http://www.speea.org/

[Associated Press; By TIM KLASS]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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