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SPEEA ballots in mail to members; Union teams recommending strike authorization

More than 21,000 ballots headed out to Boeing engineers union members this week with a recommendation to reject the company's latest contract and to authorize the negotiating team to call a strike if necessary.

"What they're asking members for is to grant strike authorization powers to the negotiating team," said Bill Dugovich, communications director for SPEEA, the union that represents more than 23,000 engineers and technical workers, including about 2,650 in Renton. "It doesn't mean a strike is immanent."

The union's most recent four-year contract expired in November. Both the company and the union have agreed to extend the current contract for four years, but the company has made one change.

Under Boeing's "best and final offer," all current employees would stay in the company's pension system, but new hires would be enrolled in an enhanced 401K program that would provide those employees with reduced benefits upon retirement.

According to Dugiovich, the change would reduce value of package by an SPEEA-estimated 41 percent. Dugovich said the company's own numbers show the reduction at 32 percent.

"It's a significant drop either way," he said, calling the 401K provision a "poison pill" for the union.

Dugovich said Boeing has been a "phenomenally successful company" in the recent past, exceeding wall street expectations in multiple quarters and authorizes raises and bonuses for executives, while proposing to cut the pension program for new hires.

"They're not spreading that success," Dugovich said.

Dugovich said along with the change to the pension plan, there are two other assurances the union wants in the new contract. First, they want an assurance that if Congress opts to lift the cap on social security payroll taxes, which currently only taxes the first $113,700 of income, benefits won't freeze at the current level, which the union estimates could result in 17 percent less payout for retirees.

The union is also seeking assurances that if Congress raises the medicare eligibility age, union members who take an early retirement option will be covered by their benefits until Medicare kicks in.

Presently, the contract is worded to protect retirees until the age of 65, when Medicare takes over. But Dugovich said the idea was not to cover retirees until 65, but until the government program takes over, so if the minimum age of the program is changed, it could adversely affect union members.

Dugovich said a change by Congress could affect about 10,400 members.

Dugivoch reiterated that while the ballots ask members for strike authorization, it is not a strike vote.

SPEEA last went on strike in 2000. It lasted 42 days.

IN a statement form the company calling the most recent offer the "best and final," Doug Alder Jr. of Boeing Media Relations said they were "disappointed in the recommendation from SPEEA's Bargaining Unit Councils and urged the employees to "run the numbers for themselves and vote for what's best for them and the longterm competitiveness of the company."

"This is an offer that leads the market by all measures. We’ve met SPEEA’s interests by extending the current contract another four years for current employees, rewarding them for the contributions they bring to the company every day," read the statement.

"Other than our competitors, no one benefits from a strike—not our employees, our customers, the community or the company," it concluded. "This is our best and final offer. Our negotiations team went all in and left nothing on the table."

"The 'last and best' (offer) is the one members accept," Dugovich countered.

Ballots were to be mailed to members Tuesday and must be returned by 5 p.m. Feb. 19.

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