Negotiators for Boeing and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace resumed contract talks Wednesday with the help of a federal mediator. The union said Boeing turned down proposals that would improve on the company's offer. SPEEA leaders have decided to send the previous offer back to members for a vote.
Last Tuesday, SPEEA engineers accepted Boeing's offer, despite a change in the retirement plan for new workers. The union's technical workers, however, rejected the contract by a vote of 3,203 to 2,868. The technical workers also authorized SPEEA leaders to call a strike, if necessary.
In a statement, Boeing noted that its "best and final" offer, which the company originally presented Jan. 17, remains unchanged. There is no increase in medical care costs to workers. And the company is offering 5 percent annual increases in wage pools for technical workers. New SPEEA members would not be added to the pension program but would be offered a 401(k) retirement program, a switch SPEEA leaders have opposed.
However, after the engineers accepted a contract with the change in retirement, SPEEA President Tom McCarty told Reuters on Tuesday that the "pension is dead." Bill Dugovich, SPEEA communications director, told The Herald that McCarty's view wasn't the position of the technical workers' bargaining team.
On Wednesday, SPEEA negotiators did not offer a recommendation to technical workers on the contract. In January, SPEEA leaders urged members to reject Boeing's contract. In October, both technical workers and engineers rejected the company's first offer, which included lower wage increases and required SPEEA members to contribute more toward health care.
The negotiations, which began last April, have been a distraction for Boeing as it faces a troubled 787 program, looks to increase production rates and makes plans for new design programs like the 787-10 and 777X.
"We believe that it's time for all of us to come together as one team and focus on the challenges facing the company," Boeing said in a statement.
The company's 787 has been grounded due to battery failures since Jan. 16. Boeing presented a proposal last week to the Federal Aviation Administration to get the jet back into commercial service. The FAA's technical staff will prepare an evaluation of Boeing's proposal and submit it to administrator Michael Huerta "probably sometime next week," Huerta said Wednesday.
SPEEA said Wednesday that its council on Friday will weigh in on the decision to send the same contract offer back to members. The union expects to mail ballots to technical workers early next week. Members have 10 days after the ballots are sent to cast their votes, which likely will be tallied mid-March.
In all, the union represents 23,000 Boeing engineers and technical workers.