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SPEEA engineers approve contract, technical workers reject and authorize strike | UPDATED

SPEEA member Dennis Davaz separates ballots Tuesday at SPEEA headquarters in Tukwila. - Brian Beckley/Renton Reporter
SPEEA member Dennis Davaz separates ballots Tuesday at SPEEA headquarters in Tukwila.
— image credit: Brian Beckley/Renton Reporter

The union representing Boeing's professional and technical workers was handed in a split decision on the company's most recent contract offer.

The engineers have accepted the contract while the technical workers rejected the offer. In addition, the technical workers gave the bargaining unit the authorization to strike if they felt necessary.

According to SPEEA, the numbers shook out like this:

The Professional Unit representing engineers accepted the contract 6,483 to 5,514, but also authorized a strike 6,727 to 5,249, just in case.

"They have locked in a contract that provides 5 percent raise pools for its duration and no increases in medical," said SPEEA spokesperson Bill Dugovich.

The Technical Unit representing technical workers voted to reject the contract by a margin of 3,203 to 2,868 and authorized a strike 3,903 to 2,165.

With rejection of Boeing's contract offer by members of the Technical Bargaining Unit, the union notified the federal mediator Wednesday to schedule the resumption of negotiations, according to a Wednesday press release from SPEEA, The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.

Meeting internally the day after the vote, SPEEA's Technical Negotiation Team is discussing the next steps in the negotiation process. Those steps include a telephone survey to determine members’ priorities for the next phase of negotiations. The survey will be announced and launched in the next few days.

The union has been working without a contract since November.

According to Dugovich, while the split vote is unusual, it is not unheard of. The units' last split like this in the early 1990s, he said.

But Dugovich said both groups authorized a strike, showing unity among the units.

"That's a real sign of solidarity among the members," he said.

Dugovich said if a strike is called, the engineers would not participate, as they have a contract in place they must honor. The engineers could, however, provide and show their support for the tech workers.

In a statement released late Tuesday, Boeing president and CEO Ray Conner said the company was pleased the engineers accepted their contract but was "deeply disappointed" the technical employees rejected its offer.

"Our goal throughout this entire process was to make sure SPEEA-represented employees were rewarded for the contributions they bring to this company every single day," said Conner in a press release. "We believe this offer leads the market in every way."

The primary bone of contention at this point is a change to the prior contract by the company that would place future hires in a 401k program instead of the pension plan. Union officials have called the change a "poison pill" and said Boeing's own estimates show that the change could cost new employees more than 31 percent at retirement, though SPEEA's calculations show the loss to be more like 41 percent.

The company has said the change is necessary to keep Boeing competitive in the future.

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

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