Boeing strike likely to last into November
SEATTLE - With the collapse of revived contract talks after barely two days, a strike that shut down Boeing Co.'s commercial aircraft plants Sept. 6 appears likely to continue well into November and possibly longer.
Neither Boeing nor the Machinists union appears to have softened its position on the thorniest issue, job security, and the talks that concluded Monday never got to the nearly equally important questions of pay, retirement benefits, or medical coverage.
"We felt, we still feel, we need to get the jobs addressed first," the union's chief negotiator, Mark Blondin, said yesterday. "They're interested in eliminating the union in the workplace . . . long-term, that appears to be their goal."
Boeing representatives would not comment on specifics of the talks Monday and did not immediately return a call for comment yesterday.
In a statement Monday, Doug Kight, Boeing vice president of human resources and chief negotiator, wrote: "We want to resolve this strike so employees can return to work, but we cannot sacrifice our ability to continuously improve productivity and our long-term competitiveness for an agreement."
It's the second walkout at Boeing in three years and the fourth in less than two decades by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents about 25,000 electricians, riveters, forklift operators, and other hourly workers in and around Seattle, 1,500 in Gresham, Ore., and 750 in Wichita, Kan.
If anything, the battle lines have hardened, indicating the strike could eclipse a 69-day walkout in 1995 and become the longest at Boeing since a 140-day strike in 1948 - bad news for subcontractors, airlines waiting for more efficient aircraft, and passengers eager for more flight options.
Despite the economic turmoil and massive employment cuts in other sectors, machinists union members remain determined to hold out for better pay, retirement benefits, and medical coverage as well as job security.
Boeing is just as determined to hold the line on costs and management control, especially on which jobs are done in-house.
"It is a central issue to the whole bargaining process," said David J. Olson, chairman emeritus of the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies and professor emeritus of political science at the University of Washington. "They can't get to the other issues that remain on the table - still important issues, such as wages - until they resolve it."