Wichita — Technical and professional workers at Boeing Co.'s Wichita plant overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to accept the company's third contract offer, avoiding a strike by the union.
The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace made no recommendation to its members on how they should vote. Upset with the wages and benefits offered by Boeing, the union urged its members to reject the company's two previous offers.
The union -- which narrowly survived a decertification vote in February -- represents nearly 3,400 workers at the Wichita facility. The union said 1,175 valid votes were cast Wednesday, with 1,024 workers -- representing 87 percent of the votes cast -- approving the contract proposal. The union said 150 workers voted to reject the offer.
Among those who voted to accept the contract was Cheri Urban, who has worked at Boeing for 25 years. Two years ago, her husband was laid off from his Boeing job. He now works as a painter, making half of his aerospace salary.
"I feel the fear of striking. I am not happy with the offer -- it stinks," Urban said. "But we have been in a situation the last two years where we are trying to survive."
Many workers felt if the contract were rejected, there would not have been enough support among employees represented by the union to sustain a strike, she said.
The union had told its membership it did not believe further negotiation gains were possible without a strike. It also had said the latest offer -- expanded during the latest round of negotiations to cover four years -- includes some minor improvements.
The company's latest offer includes wage increases of 3.5 percent the first year, 3 percent the second and third year and a "market percentage" in the fourth year. It also would create an employee incentive plan.
The offer caps for the first three years of the contract monthly health care premiums at $89 for an employee, $178 for an employee and spouse or children, and $267 for a family enrolled in its traditional plan.
Boeing also has a no-cost health plan.
A $1,800 lump sum is payable if the contract is approved.