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Machinists’ union leaders call for Boeing strike

August 30, 2008

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— Leaders of Boeing Co.'s Machinists union called Friday for a strike after rejecting the aerospace giant's "best and final" contract offer. They urged union members to reject the offer in a vote set for Wednesday.

The Chicago-based company hoped the proposal, which provides added pay and incentives to workers over three years, would help it avert a labor standoff. The talks come as Boeing tries to keep up with a backlog of plane orders and avoid more penalties caused by production delays of its next-generation passenger jet.

Tom Wroblewski, district president of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 751, said the company's offer fell short in terms of job security, wages and medical coverage, among other areas.

"We did not take lightly the fact we recommended a strike," he told a news conference. "This is not just talking about 27,000 members. This is talking about 27,000 members and their families."

Boeing spokesmen said the company was "extremely disappointed" by the union's response, but is standing by its offer. The current contract expires Wednesday.

Wroblewski said the union was willing to continue bargaining and would welcome the involvement of a federal mediator: "It's all in the company's court at this point."

"We are more than willing to talk to the union and discuss the contract with them in more detail - that said, this is truly our final offer," Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx said late Friday in response to Wroblewski's comment.

The sides have been negotiating since May 9; round-the-clock talks began Aug. 21.

In 2005, about 18,400 machinists in the Pacific Northwest and Wichita, Kan., struck for four weeks, forcing the company to halt commercial airplane production. The machinists assemble Boeing's commercial planes and some key components.

The proposal, Boeing's third offer, was delivered to the union Thursday. It would have increased pay by 11 percent on average for more than 27,000 union workers in Washington state, Kansas and Oregon, the company said.

The tentative deal also included a $2,500 bonus for workers if the agreement was ratified by Wednesday.

Boeing said it had withdrawn certain contentious proposals, such as plans to cut early retiree medical coverage and create a new defined-contribution retirement program for future employees.

The union's main concerns include details on subcontracting; Machinists don't want jobs that union workers can do to go to outside contractors.

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