U.S. Markets open in 4 hrs 33 mins

Boeing tech workers taking re-vote on contract

SEATTLE (AP) -- The union for 7,400 Boeing technical workers is counting ballots in a re-vote on a contract that would replace pensions with a 401(k) retirement plan for new hires.

The technical unit split with engineers represented by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace in a Feb. 19 vote. The 15,500 engineers approved a new four-year contract, even though the union had recommended rejection over the pension issue.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. left its "best and final" contract offer on the table for the technical workers and urged approval. It has said a switch away from pensions is vital to the company's competitiveness.

"It is time for all of us to come together and focus on the challenges facing the company," Boeing said in its message to workers on the contract.

The union bargaining unit made no recommendation on how members should vote the second time. It said Boeing was unwilling to make any improvements because the contract had been narrowly rejected in the first vote. It was turned down on a 3,203 to 2,868 vote.

"At this point in the negotiations process, we have extracted everything we could from the employer without a strike and we do not take the responsibility of calling a strike lightly," SPEEA said in its message to technical workers.

"A vote to REJECT this contract offer will almost certainly lead to a strike. The membership must decide if it is willing to engage in a potentially lengthy strike in an effort to achieve a better contract offer," the union said.

"A vote to ACCEPT this contract will lock-in term of the 2008-2012 contract for another four years, including 5 percent annual wage pools, maintaining medical benefits without increases and an improved basic retirement benefit calculation for existing techs in pension," the message said. "Unfortunately, employees hired after March 1, 2013, will not receive the pension, but rather Boeing's 'enhanced 401(k),' putting their retirement security at risk and creating risk for those who remain in the pension."

The union's 23,000 employees are mostly in the Puget Sound region, working on jetliner design and technical issues. Factory assembly work is done by members of the International Associations of Machinists. The machinists approved a four-year contract in December 2011.

Machinists consider pensions a "sacred issue," spokeswoman Connie Kelliher told The Daily Herald. "How do you leave less for the ones coming behind you?"

Boeing had proposed the 401(k) in 2008 but pulled it in an attempt to prevent a strike. Machinists went on strike for 57 days.